Transitional Dynamics of Household Food Insecurity Impact Children's Developmental Outcomes

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 Dec;39(9):715-725. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000598.


Objective: To determine how transitions into and out of varying degrees of food insecurity impact children's academic competencies, executive functioning, and social skills (i.e., self-control, interpersonal skills, externalizing behaviors, and internalizing behaviors).

Method: Data come from the nationally representative kindergarten and first-grade waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (2010-2011); 11,958 children attending 1289 schools are included. Statistical analyses involve using a novel framework for measuring the transitional dynamics and depth of food insecurity to predict children's developmental outcomes using hierarchal linear models, which adjust for child- and school-level confounders.

Results: Deepening food insecurity (DeepenFIS) was detrimental to children's self-control (-0.208, p < 0.01), math (-0.153, p < 0.01), and working memory (-5.202, p < 0.05) scores. Remitting marginal food insecurity was associated with negative effects on children's self-control (-0.082, p < 0.05) and interpersonal skills (-0.098, p < 0.01) but not on math or working memory. Persisting marginal food insecurity (PersistMFIS) negatively impacted children's self-control (-0.106, p < 0.05) and interpersonal skills (-0.115, p < 0.05). Emerging food insecurity (0.146, p < 0.01) and persisting food insecurity (0.071, p < 0.05) had detrimental effects on children's externalizing behaviors.

Conclusion: Based on a novel food insecurity transitions framework and examination of multiple developmental outcomes, this study highlights the importance of examining both depth and transitional dynamics of food insecurity. Findings indicate that DeepenFIS and PersistMFIS may have potentially the most harmful effects on children's developmental outcomes. Clinically, findings support the need for addressing food insecurity in early childhood, even if the food insecurity challenges are marginal and just emerging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Academic Success*
  • Behavioral Symptoms / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mathematics / education
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self-Control*
  • Social Skills*
  • United States / epidemiology