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Transitional Dynamics of Household Food Insecurity Impact Children's Developmental Outcomes

Grineski, Sara E., PhD*; Morales, Danielle X., PhD; Collins, Timothy W., PhD; Rubio, Ricardo, BA

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: December 2018 - Volume 39 - Issue 9 - p 715–725
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000598
Original Article

Objective: To determine how transitions into and out of varying degrees of food insecurity impact children's academic competencies, executive functioning, and social skills (i.e., self-control, interpersonal skills, externalizing behaviors, and internalizing behaviors).

Method: Data come from the nationally representative kindergarten and first-grade waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (2010–2011); 11,958 children attending 1289 schools are included. Statistical analyses involve using a novel framework for measuring the transitional dynamics and depth of food insecurity to predict children's developmental outcomes using hierarchal linear models, which adjust for child- and school-level confounders.

Results: Deepening food insecurity (DeepenFIS) was detrimental to children's self-control (−0.208, p < 0.01), math (−0.153, p < 0.01), and working memory (−5.202, p < 0.05) scores. Remitting marginal food insecurity was associated with negative effects on children's self-control (−0.082, p < 0.05) and interpersonal skills (−0.098, p < 0.01) but not on math or working memory. Persisting marginal food insecurity (PersistMFIS) negatively impacted children's self-control (−0.106, p < 0.05) and interpersonal skills (−0.115, p < 0.05). Emerging food insecurity (0.146, p < 0.01) and persisting food insecurity (0.071, p < 0.05) had detrimental effects on children's externalizing behaviors.

Conclusion: Based on a novel food insecurity transitions framework and examination of multiple developmental outcomes, this study highlights the importance of examining both depth and transitional dynamics of food insecurity. Findings indicate that DeepenFIS and PersistMFIS may have potentially the most harmful effects on children's developmental outcomes. Clinically, findings support the need for addressing food insecurity in early childhood, even if the food insecurity challenges are marginal and just emerging.

*Department of Sociology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT;

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX;

Department of Geography, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT.

Address for reprints: Sara E. Grineski, PhD, Department of Sociology, University of Utah, 480 S 1530 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; e-mail:

Supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under linked Award Numbers RL5GM118969, TL4GM118971, and UL1GM118970.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Received February 08, 2018

Accepted May 10, 2018

Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.