Nav: Home

Researchers identify negative impacts of food insecurity on children's health

September 09, 2019

Washington, D.C. (September 9, 2019) - Food insecurity -- uncertainty about or a lack of consistent access to food that meets the needs of household members -- is a persistent social problem in the United States that affected roughly 14.3 million households in 2018 and nearly 14% of households with children, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A new paper by researchers at the Boston University School of Social Work (BUSSW) and American University's School of Public Affairs (AU SPA) confirms the negative impact of food insecurity on child health, suggesting the urgent need for policies to combat this problem.

"Previous studies have pointed to a negative impact of food insecurity on child health, but our paper uses rich, nationally representative data to rule out other explanations for this relationship," says study lead author Margaret M.C. Thomas, MSW, doctoral candidate at BUSSW. "By comparing the outcomes of children in food-secure homes to those in food-insecure homes who were alike with respect to a large number of other factors, we have been able to more definitively characterize the serious negative health impacts of food insecurity."

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the research by Thomas and colleagues Associate Professor Daniel P. Miller, PhD (Boston University), and Associate Professor Taryn W. Morrissey, PhD (American University), points to a unique and negative effect of household food insecurity on children's health that is not due to the composition of their homes, the safety of their neighborhoods, or their household's income or receipt of public assistance. Instead, it shows the pervasive negative impacts of household food insecurity on children's health. "Household food insecurity was related to significantly worse general health, some acute and chronic health problems, worse health care access, and heightened emergency department use for children," says Morrissey.

The team of researchers used propensity scoring (PS) methods to investigate the effects of food insecurity on children's health by leveraging the inclusion of a measure of household food insecurity in the nationally representative National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The NHIS data also include a rich set of background information about families including demographic characteristics, economic information, public program participation, and adult physical and mental health outcomes.

Thomas and her colleagues believe that their analytic approach is an important improvement over previous studies that use traditional regression methods. Using PS methods allowed them to better assess the causal impact of food insecurity on key domains of child health and health care use.

"Propensity scoring, a quasi-experimental family of methods, seeks to mimic the context of an experimental design by comparing outcomes among children who differ with respect to the household's food insecurity but who are alike in all other observable ways," Thomas says. "Because of the highly detailed information in the NHIS data, we were able to create a sample that is balanced with respect to known predictors of food insecurity."

Data on the independent impact of food insecurity on child health helps guide efforts to prevent food insecurity and ameliorate its consequences. The researchers suggest immediate policy responses, such as an increase in federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits for families.

"There are clear and consistent harmful impacts of food insecurity on children's general health, chronic health, acute health, and access to health care," Thomas says. "Without intervention, household food insecurity will continue to detrimentally impact children's health."
-end-
For more information about the study or to speak with the researchers, please contact: Michele Walsh, Boston University School of Social Work, mmwalsh@bu.edu or 617-358-5149; Natasha Abel, American University, nabel@american.edu or 202-885-5943.

About Boston University's School of Social Work

A leader in social work education for more than 100 years, Boston University's School of Social Work (BUSSW) offers a top 10-ranked MSW degree, a fully-funded PhD program, wide-ranging professional education programs, and two cutting-edge centers. Led by a research-driven faculty focused on innovation and impact, BUSSW is dedicated to advancing a just and compassionate society and promoting the health, well-being and empowerment of all oppressed groups.

About American University's School of Public Affairs

Established in 1934, American University's School of Public Affairs (SPA) is ranked 14 by US News & World Report, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and executive-level programs to build and enhance careers in public service. The school offers a unique pairing of access to Washington, D.C. with world-renowned faculty and transformational research, driving progress in policy, politics, law, and public administration. SPA is also ranked third the U.S. and first in the D.C. area for public affairs research impact.

American University

Related Health Care Articles:

Large federal program aimed at providing better health care underfunds primary care
Despite a mandate to help patients make better-informed health care decisions, a ten-year research program established under the Affordable Care Act has funded a relatively small number of studies that examine primary care, the setting where the majority of patients in the US receive treatment.
International medical graduates care for Medicare patients with greater health care needs
A study by a Massachusetts General Hospital research team indicates that internal medicine physicians who are graduates of medical schools outside the US care for Medicare patients with more complex medical needs than those cared for by graduates of American medical schools.
The Lancet Global Health: Improved access to care not sufficient to improve health, as epidemic of poor quality care revealed
Of the 8.6 million deaths from conditions treatable by health care, poor-quality care is responsible for an estimated 5 million deaths per year -- more than deaths due to insufficient access to care (3.6 million) .
Under Affordable Care Act, Americans have had more preventive care for heart health
By reducing out-of-pocket costs for preventive treatment, the Affordable Care Act appears to have encouraged more people to have health screenings related to their cardiovascular health.
High-deductible health care plans curb both cost and usage, including preventive care
A team of researchers based at IUPUI has conducted the first systematic review of studies examining the relationship between high-deductible health care plans and the use of health care services.
Health insurance changes, access to care by patients' mental health status
A research letter published by JAMA Psychiatry examined access to care before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and after the ACA for patients grouped by mental health status using a scale to assess mental illness in epidemiologic studies.
Medical expenditures rise in most categories except primary care physicians and home health care
This article was published in the July/August 2017 issue of Annals of Family Medicine research journal.
Care management program reduced health care costs in Partners Pioneer ACO
Pesearchers at Partners HealthCare published a study showing that Partners Pioneer ACO not only reduces spending growth, but does this by reducing avoidable hospitalizations for patients with elevated but modifiable risks.
Health care leaders predict patients will lose under President Trump's health care plans
According to a newly released NEJM Catalyst Insights Report, health care executives and industry insiders expect patients -- more than any other stakeholder -- to be the big losers of any comprehensive health care plan from the Trump administration.
The Lancet: The weaponisation of health care: Using people's need for health care as a weapon of war over six years of Syrian conflict
Marking six years since the start of the Syrian conflict (15 March), a study in The Lancet provides new estimates for the number of medical personnel killed: 814 from March 2011 to February 2017.
More Health Care News and Health Care Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.