Addressing the Needs of Food Insecure Children

Monlux, Amalie
Braun, Kathryn
Public Health
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Food insecurity affects 50 million Americans, which is about 14% of the population (Gundersen & Zilliak, 2015). Seventeen percent of households with children are food insecure (Hunt et al., 2018). A recent study reported that 15% of children ages 2-5 living in a food-insecure household are obese, compared to 11% of children in food-secure homes (Kaur, Lamb & Ogden, 2015). Children who are food insecure are more likely to present with poor nutritional outcomes (Hunt et al., 2018). There exist few studies on household food insecurity in sub-populations, so this dissertation focused on several understudied sub-populations. The purpose of this dissertation was to determine the needs of children in food insecure households in specific populations. This dissertation included three studies, and was guided by the Social Ecological Model framework. The first study was a secondary analysis of data from Hawaiʻi-based children in the Children’s Healthy Living (CHL) Program to determine differing characteristics of food-secure and food-insecure children. I found that food-insecure children were more likely to be living with overweight or obesity, and their caregivers were more likely to not have a college education and not be employed. The second study was a systematic literature review on the effects of school-based food pantries on children’s diets. The articles included in this review reported that children who participate in school-based food pantries increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreased their consumption of unhealthy food intake. For the third study, I completed a series of one-on-one interviews with food-insecure parents who are college students. This study found that college students who are parents utilize a variety of strategies to increase their household food-security status, including focusing on price versus nutritional quality of food, reaching out to family and friends, attending food banks or food pantries, and prioritizing their children before themselves. Taken together, the findings show four things. First, financial resources are a strong predictor of household food insecurity. They are also a determining factor in food purchasing decisions. Households with limited financial resources are more likely to be food insecure. They are also more likely to purchase food based on price, not on nutritional quality. Secondly, children who are food insecure are more likely to be overweight or obese (OWOB). Third, food assistance programs are helpful, but do not prevent food insecurity. Lastly, food security status does not seem to influence the amount of fruits and vegetables in a child’s diet. The quantitative study using CHL data showed no significant difference in fruit and vegetable consumption in children who were food secure or food insecure. The studies included in the literature review reported that children ate more fruits and vegetables when offered, with no mention of food security status. The parents who were interviewed for the qualitative study discussed that they are more worried about price of a food than nutritional value, which limited the amount of fresh food they would buy. This study offers several recommendations. First, food distribution programs such as school pantries and food banks, should increase their focus on supplying fruits and vegetables. Second, increasing minimum wage and providing affordable housing would help families have more disposable income for healthy foods. Third, the income criterion for eligibility for federal food assistance should be increased so that more families qualify.
Public health, children, food security, Hawaii, student parents
98 pages
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