Food Insecurity and Eating Pathology in Adolescents

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Aug 30;18(17):9155. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18179155.


Adolescence is a critical period for the emergence of eating disorders, and food insecurity may be related to eating pathology and weight, as evidenced in adults. However, little is known about food insecurity and eating pathology during this developmental period, and associations between food insecurity and body mass index (BMI) are mixed. Therefore, we examined associations between food insecurity and BMI percentile, self-reported eating-related pathology and binge eating, and subgroup differences by race/ethnicity. In a subset, we examined the relationship between food insecurity and real-world hunger, food craving, and loss-of-control eating using ecological momentary assessment (EMA). Fifty-eight adolescents at two sites (clinical sample, n = 38, BMI percentile ≥ 70th; community sample, n = 20, all BMI strata) completed self-report questionnaires. Adolescents were 15.2 ± 2.1 years old, 62% female, 50% Black, 34.5% Hispanic, with BMI percentile = 80.5 ± 25.8 (range 4-99). In the full sample, food insecurity was associated with greater BMI (p < 0.01), higher shape/weight overvaluation (p = 0.04), and greater number of binge eating episodes among those reporting at least one binge episode (p < 0.01), with significant relationships for BMI percentile, shape/weight overvaluation, body dissatisfaction, and binge episode frequency among Hispanic adolescents only (each p < 0.01). As in adults, food insecurity may be a risk factor for eating pathology, particularly for Hispanic teens.

Keywords: adolescents; binge eating; body dissatisfaction; body mass index; eating disorders; ecological momentary assessment; food insecurity; health equity; inclusion; race/ethnicity; structural inequality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Binge-Eating Disorder*
  • Body Dissatisfaction*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Food Insecurity
  • Humans
  • Male