Food insecurity affects school children's academic performance, weight gain, and social skills

J Nutr. 2005 Dec;135(12):2831-9. doi: 10.1093/jn/135.12.2831.


Food insecurity has been associated with diverse developmental consequences for U.S. children primarily from cross-sectional studies. We used longitudinal data to investigate how food insecurity over time related to changes in reading and mathematics test performance, weight and BMI, and social skills in children. Data were from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, a prospective sample of approximately 21,000 nationally representative children entering kindergarten in 1998 and followed through 3rd grade. Food insecurity was measured by parent interview using a modification of the USDA module in which households were classified as food insecure if they reported > or =1 affirmative response in the past year. Households were grouped into 4 categories based on the temporal occurrence of food insecurity in kindergarten and 3rd grade. Children's academic performance, height, and weight were assessed directly. Children's social skills were reported by teachers. Analyses examined the effects of modified food insecurity on changes in child outcomes using lagged, dynamic, and difference (i.e., fixed-effects) models and controlling for child and household contextual variables. In lagged models, food insecurity was predictive of poor developmental trajectories in children before controlling for other variables. Food insecurity thus serves as an important marker for identifying children who fare worse in terms of subsequent development. In all models with controls, food insecurity was associated with outcomes, and associations differed by gender. This study provides the strongest empirical evidence to date that food insecurity is linked to specific developmental consequences for children, and that these consequences may be both nutritional and nonnutritional.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Education / statistics & numerical data
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Learning*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Probability
  • Reading
  • Social Behavior*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Weight Gain*