Food insecurity influences weight-loss attempts among healthy weight children
In households with food insecurity, children with healthy weight were more likely to attempt weight loss, while food insecurity played no role in the weight-loss practices of children with overweight or obesity, study data show.
Food insecurity has a negative impact on children’s cognitive scores and physical and mental health, which in turn may contribute to unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices, including skipping breakfast and smoking. These choices may increase risk for developing obesity, although “the association between childhood obesity and food insecurity is unclear, [and] the two conditions share common risk factors,” Callie L. Brown, MD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, and colleagues wrote.
Brown and colleagues sought to determine whether household food insecurity is linked to weight-loss attempts and unhealthy weight-control practices.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected from 2005 to 2012 to examine self-reported weight-loss attempts among children aged 8 to 15 years, as well as their level of household food insecurity. The analysis focused on 6,077 participants who were representative of the U.S. population, controlling for age, sex, race, ethnicity, poverty status and whether each participant had overweight, obesity or normal weight.
Children with low and very low food security were more likely to attempt weight loss compared with children who did not experience household food insecurity, according to the researchers. For children with low food security, 53.6% attempted weight loss; for children with very low food security, 58.9% attempted weight loss (P < .0001 vs. high food security).
Children with low and very low food security more often reported unhealthy weight-control practices (23.4% and 26.3%, respectively) than their counterparts in food-secure homes (15.9%; P < .0001), according to the researchers.
The data also revealed that weight-loss attempts among children with very low food security were more likely than among children with high food security in the previous year. However, this applied to children at healthy weights (OR = 1.51; 95% CI, 1-2.26); the association was not significant for children with overweight or obesity, according to the researchers.
The researchers proposed several possible explanations for the correlation between household food insecurity and weight-loss attempts, including “using weight-loss attempts as a coping mechanism for having inconsistent access to food or due to potential pressure from parents to ‘eat less.’”
Among older children, the researchers observed greater awareness of household food insecurity, and these may have led to unhealthy weight-control practices, such as skipping meals, which could be seen as “both a way to lose weight and assist the family in conserving limited food resources,” the researchers wrote.
Moving forward, the researchers suggested that future studies should investigate the motivations behind weight-loss attempted by children with household food insecurity. They recommended that health care providers teach all children healthy ways to manage their weight, no matter their weight or level of food security.