Hungry children and youth have more health problems

August 2, 2010

Children and youth who experience hunger appear more likely to have health problems, and repeated episodes of hunger may be particularly toxic, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Food insecurity—a lack of adequate access to food for financial reasons—affected approximately 15 percent of American households in 2008, according to background information in the article. This marks an increase from 11 percent in 2007 and the highest prevalence since monitoring began in 1995. Child hunger is an extreme manifestation of food insecurity, defined as a period of time when children experience being hungry because their family has run out of food or the money to buy food.

Sharon I. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., M.H.Sc., R.D., now of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., and then of the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and colleagues analyzed data from a Canadian survey of 5,809 children age 10 to 15 years and 3,333 youth age 16 to 21 years over a 10-year period, from 1994 to 2004-2005. During this time, 3.3 percent of children and 3.9 percent of youth had ever experienced hunger and 1.1 percent of children and 1.4 percent of youth were hungry at two or more time points.

Overall, more than one in 10 children (13.5 percent) and one in four youth (28.6 percent) reported poor health in the final round of the survey. Rates of poor health were higher among those who were hungry at any time than among those who had never experienced hunger (32.9 percent vs. 12.8 percent for children and 47.3 percent vs. 27.9 percent for youth). The association between hunger and poor health among children persisted after adjustment for baseline health and for other household markers of disadvantage, including low income and lack of home ownership.

Although one episode of hunger was not associated with chronic conditions or with asthma, youth who were hungry more than once during the survey were more likely to have asthma or any chronic illness than those who had never been hungry.

"The mechanism by which childhood hunger negatively affects health is not well understood. Food insecurity has been associated with emotional and psychological stress among children, which could exert a negative effect on general health and contribute to heightened risk of chronic diseases," the authors write. "While abnormal body weight may also negatively influence health and increase vulnerability to a range of chronic conditions, the existing research has not confirmed an association between food insecurity and body weight among children."

"The findings of this study add to the literature showing that is a serious risk factor for long-term poor health among children and youth, pointing to the relevance of severe food insecurity as an identifiable marker of vulnerability," the authors conclude. "Clinicians should familiarize themselves with risk factors for household food insecurity, which are largely related to economic disadvantage, and take steps to ensure that potentially vulnerable families receive available support. The findings also reinforce the need for advocacy for policy interventions to eliminate problems of poverty and , which pose an unacceptable but remediable risk to ."

More information: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164[8]:754-762.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Expert: Be concerned about how apps collect, share health data

October 20, 2017
As of 2016 there were more than 165,000 health and wellness apps available though the Apple App Store alone. According to Rice University medical media expert Kirsten Ostherr, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates ...

Three million Americans carry loaded handguns daily, study finds

October 19, 2017
An estimated 3 million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and 9 million do so on a monthly basis, new research indicates. The vast majority cited protection as their ...

More teens than ever aren't getting enough sleep

October 19, 2017
If you're a young person who can't seem to get enough sleep, you're not alone: A new study led by San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge finds that adolescents today are sleeping fewer hours per night ...

Across Asia, liver cancer is linked to herbal remedies: study

October 18, 2017
Researchers have uncovered widespread evidence of a link between traditional Chinese herbal remedies and liver cancer across Asia, a study said Wednesday.

Eating better throughout adult years improves physical fitness in old age, suggests study

October 18, 2017
People who have a healthier diet throughout their adult lives are more likely to be stronger and fitter in older age than those who don't, according to a new study led by the University of Southampton.

Global calcium consumption appears low, especially in Asia

October 18, 2017
Daily calcium intake among adults appears to vary quite widely around the world in distinct regional patterns, according to a new systematic review of research data ahead of World Osteoporosis Day on Friday, Oct. 20.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.