Household food insecurity: associations with disordered eating behaviours and overweight in a population-based sample of adolescents

Public Health Nutr. 2020 Dec;23(17):3126-3135. doi: 10.1017/S1368980020000464. Epub 2020 May 29.


Objective: To examine how household food insecurity is related to adolescent weight status and disordered eating.

Design: Cross-sectional, population-based study. Adolescents self-reported unhealthy weight control behaviours, binge eating and meal frequency; weight status was measured. Household food insecurity was assessed by asking parents to respond to the validated six-item US Household Food Security Survey Module.

Setting: Adolescents surveyed within Minneapolis/St. Paul public middle and high schools completed surveys at school, and their parents/guardians were surveyed by mail during the 2009-2010 academic year.

Participants: Ethnically/racially diverse, primarily low-income adolescents (mean age: 14·4 years, range: 10-22 years) and their parents/guardians (n 2285 dyads).

Results: More than one-third (38·9 %) of the adolescents experienced past-year household food insecurity, 43·2 % reported disordered eating and 39·6 % were overweight. Generalised regression models showed that food insecure (FI) compared with food secure (FS) adolescents had higher prevalence of overweight (FI: 42·3 % v. FS: 37·9 %, P = 0·039), lower breakfast consumption (FI: 4·1 times/week v. FS: 4·4 times/week, P = 0·005) and greater use of unhealthy weight control behaviours (FI: 49·0 % v. FS: 39·5 %, P < 0·001) in unadjusted models. Models adjusted for parental education, ethnicity/race, sex and age found that food insecurity was associated with higher prevalence of unhealthy weight control behaviours (FI: 44·5 % v. FS: 37·8 %, P = 0·007), but not with weight status or other eating behaviours.

Conclusions: These results suggest that food insecurity may be an independent risk factor for unhealthy weight control behaviours, indicating a need to approach these intersecting issues in a comprehensive manner.

Keywords: Adolescents; Disordered eating; Eating behaviour; Food insecurity; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders*
  • Female
  • Food Insecurity*
  • Food Supply
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Overweight