Objectives: To expand the understanding of potential pathways through which food insecurity is associated with adverse health outcomes, we investigated whether food insecurity is associated with nutritional levels, inflammatory response, and altered immune function.
Methods: We performed a cross-sectional analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2006) with 12,191 participants. We assessed food insecurity using the US Department of Agriculture food security scale module and measured clinical biomarkers from blood samples obtained during participants' visits to mobile examination centers.
Results: Of the study population, 21.5% was food insecure. Food insecurity was associated with higher levels of C-reactive protein (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=1.21; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.04, 1.40) and of white blood cell count (AOR=1.36; 95% CI=1.11, 1.67). White blood cell count partly mediated the association between food insecurity and C-reactive protein.
Conclusions: These findings show that food insecurity is associated with increased inflammation, a correlate of chronic diseases. Immune response also appears to be a potential mediator in this pathway.