Childhood food insecurity and incident asthma: A population-based cohort study of children in Ontario, Canada

PLoS One. 2021 Jun 9;16(6):e0252301. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0252301. eCollection 2021.


Background: Childhood food insecurity has been associated with prevalent asthma in cross-sectional studies. Little is known about the relationship between food insecurity and incident asthma.

Methods: We used administrative databases linked with the Canadian Community Health Survey, to conduct a retrospective cohort study of children <18 years in Ontario, Canada. Children without a previous diagnosis of asthma who had a household response to the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) were followed until March 31, 2018 for new asthma diagnoses using a validated administrative coding algorithm. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazard models to examine the association between food insecurity and incident asthma, and adjusted models sequentially for clinical and clinical/socioeconomic risk factors. As additional analyses, we examined associations by HFSSM respondent type, severity of food insecurity, and age of asthma diagnosis. Moreover, we assessed for interaction between food security and child's sex, household smoking status, and maternal asthma on the risk of incident asthma.

Results: Among the 27,746 included children, 5.1% lived in food insecure households. Over a median of 8.34 years, the incidence of asthma was 7.33/1000 person-years (PY) among food insecure children and 5.91/1000 PY among food secure children (unadjusted hazard ratio [HR] 1.24, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.54, p = 0.051). In adjusted analyses associations were similar (HR 1.16, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.47, p = 0.24 adjusted for clinical risk factors, HR 1.24, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.60, p = 0.09 adjusted for clinical/socioeconomic factors). Associations did not qualitatively change by HFSSM respondent type, severity of food insecurity, and age of asthma diagnosis. There was no evidence of interaction in our models.

Conclusions: Food insecure children have numerous medical and social challenges. However, in this large population-based study, we did not observe that childhood food insecurity was associated with an increased risk of incident asthma when adjusted for important clinical and socioeconomic confounders.

Grant support

This study was completed at the ICES Western site. ICES is funded by an annual grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). Core funding for ICES Western is provided by the Academic Medical Organization of Southwestern Ontario (AMOSO), the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry (SSMD), Western University, and the Lawson Health Research Institute (LHRI). Parts of this material are based on data and information compiled and provided by the MOHLTC and CIHI. The analyses, conclusions, opinions and statements expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of the funding or data sources; no endorsement by ICES, AMOSO, SSMD, LHRI, Western University or the MOHLTC is intended or should be inferred.