Dietary intake, overweight status, and perceptions of food insecurity among homeless Minnesotan youth

Am J Hum Biol. Sep-Oct 2008;20(5):550-63. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20780.


Youth, 9-18 years (n = 202), living in homeless shelters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were assessed for height, weight, dietary intake, and perceptions of food insecurity. Perceptions of food security were measured by asking youth to respond to the statements (1) "There are times when we do not have enough food in the house," (2) "I go to bed hungry at night," (3) "I do not get enough to eat at home," and (4) "Have you ever had to miss a meal (or not been able to eat) because there was no food at home?" Additionally, questions evaluated coping mechanisms used by children to ward off hunger. Fifty-five percent of the children reported not enough food in the house and 25% reported going to bed hungry. Youth had inadequate intakes of vitamin D, calcium, and potassium and the majority consumed less than the estimated average requirements (EAR) for vitamins A, C, and E, phosphorus, folate, and zinc. Fruits, vegetables, and dairy were also consumed below recommended levels. Forty-five percent of boys and 50% of girls were at risk-for-overweight or were overweight. Overeating, eating anything, eating disliked foods, and eating at the homes of family and friends were identified as strategies to cope with food insecurity. Overeating when food is available may explain why we see a hunger-obesity paradigm to the magnitude that we do among the poorest Americans. These strategies protect children from the immediate negative associations of poverty and hunger, but they may contribute to long-term weight problems currently found in the US.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Body Height
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Food Supply*
  • Homeless Youth*
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Hyperphagia / psychology
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / psychology
  • Minnesota / epidemiology
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritional Status
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Perception
  • Poverty
  • Social Environment