Food Insecurity and Obesity in US Adolescents: A Population-Based Analysis

Child Obes. 2021 Mar;17(2):110-115. doi: 10.1089/chi.2020.0158. Epub 2021 Jan 22.


Background: Food insecurity and obesity are significant problems affecting adolescents. There is a paucity of recent data examining this relationship. This study utilizes a recent nationally representative sample of US adolescents to examine the relationship between obesity and food security status, as well as other risk factors. Methods: A cross-sectional analysis of 4777 US adolescents (13-18 years old) was performed using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2007-2016. Prevalence of obesity based on food security status was calculated. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to examine characteristics of adolescents in relationship to obesity. Results: The prevalence of obesity among adolescents from food insecure households was significantly higher compared to those who were not, with a prevalence ratio of 1.3 (95% CI: 1.2-1.5, p < 0.0001). Food insecurity was associated with a higher unadjusted rate of obesity, with an odds ratio of 1.4 (95% CI: 1.2-1.7, p = 0.0002). After adjustment for potential confounding factors, food insecurity was no longer significantly associated with obesity (OR 1.19, 95% CI: 1.0-1.4, p = 0.08). However, other factors such as black race, Hispanic ethnicity, male sex, and households with a monthly income ≤185% of the poverty line were associated with increased odds of obesity. Conclusions: While the prevalence of obesity in adolescents from food insecure households was higher compared to those who were not, no association between the two was found when accounting for other risk factors. Data on independent food-seeking behaviors of adolescents may help clarify this complex relationship in future work.

Keywords: adolescents; body mass index; food insecurity; obesity; pediatric obesity; poverty.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Food Insecurity*
  • Food Supply
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Poverty