Objectives: To develop a brief screen to identify families at risk for food insecurity (FI) and to evaluate the sensitivity, specificity, and convergent validity of the screen.
Patients and methods: Caregivers of children (age: birth through 3 years) from 7 urban medical centers completed the US Department of Agriculture 18-item Household Food Security Survey (HFSS), reports of child health, hospitalizations in their lifetime, and developmental risk. Children were weighed and measured. An FI screen was developed on the basis of affirmative HFSS responses among food-insecure families. Sensitivity and specificity were evaluated. Convergent validity (the correspondence between the FI screen and theoretically related variables) was assessed with logistic regression, adjusted for covariates including study site; the caregivers' race/ethnicity, US-born versus immigrant status, marital status, education, and employment; history of breastfeeding; child's gender; and the child's low birth weight status.
Results: The sample included 30,098 families, 23% of which were food insecure. HFSS questions 1 and 2 were most frequently endorsed among food-insecure families (92.5% and 81.9%, respectively). An affirmative response to either question 1 or 2 had a sensitivity of 97% and specificity of 83% and was associated with increased risk of reported poor/fair child health (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 1.56; P < .001), hospitalizations in their lifetime (aOR: 1.17; P < .001), and developmental risk (aOR: 1.60; P < .001).
Conclusions: A 2-item FI screen was sensitive, specific, and valid among low-income families with young children. The FI screen rapidly identifies households at risk for FI, enabling providers to target services that ameliorate the health and developmental consequences associated with FI.