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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Children's Experiences of Food Insecurity Can Assist in Understanding Its Affect on Their Well-Being

Authors
item Connell, Carol - DELTA NIRI
item Lofton, Kristi - DETLA NIRI
item Yadrick, Kathy - DELTA NIRI
item Rehner, Timothy - UNIV SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI

Submitted to: Journal of Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 17, 2005
Publication Date: July 20, 2005
Citation: Connell, C. L., Lofton, K. L., Yadrick, K., Rehner, T.A. 2005. Children's experiences of food insecurity can assist in understanding its effect on their well-being. Journal of Nutrition. 135:1683-1690.

Interpretive Summary: While several studies have focused on understanding food insecurity from an adult's point of view and from a child's experience as described by an adult, little is known about how children actually perceive food insecurity. Household food insecurity has previously been associated with adverse outcomes of a child's cognitive, academic, and psychosocial development. Understanding how children experience food insecurity is essential to measure the impact food insecurity has on a child's health and quality of life. The purpose of this research was to develop a food security model that could be administered directly to children. This study also defines children’s food insecurity for children using children’s descriptions. Children as young as 11 years of age could describe feelings and experiences associated with food insecurity. Their experiences included worry associated with limited food supply; sadness over no choice in foods, both offered and eaten at meals; and fear and shame of being labeled as poor. This research confirms that children can clearly describe behaviors associated with food insecurity, identify causes of food insecurity, and describe adult's behaviors and responses to food insecurity. Children were also able to note a decrease in portion of foods served, decreased frequency of meals, use of low-cost food items, feelings of no choice in foods, and when adults were trying to hide the situation from them, e.g., children were encouraged to eat meals with others outside the home. This tool provides a foundation for further investigation of children and their experiences with food insecurity and will allow further research on the impact of food insecurity on children.

Technical Abstract: An understanding of the experience of food insecurity by children is essential for better measurement and assessment of its impact on children’s nutritional, physical and mental health. Our qualitative study explored children’s perceptions of household food insecurity to identify their perceptions of food insecurity and to use these to establish components of children’s food insecurity experience. Thirty-two children aged 11-16 y old from after school programs and a middle school in low income areas participated in individual semi-structured in-depth interviews. Children as young as 11 y could describe behaviors associated with food insecurity if they had direct or indirect experience with it. Using the constant comparative method of qualitative data analysis, children’s descriptions of behaviors associated with food insecurity were categorized into components of quantity of food, quality of food, psychological aspects and social aspects described in the household food insecurity literature. Aspects of quantity included eating less than usual and eating more or eating fast when food was available. Aspects of quality included use of a few kinds of low cost foods. Psychological aspects included worry/anxiety/sadness about the family food supply, feelings of having no choice in the foods eaten, shame/fear of being labeled as poor, and attempts to shield children. Social aspects of food insecurity centered on using social networks to acquire food or money and social exclusion. These results provide valuable information in understanding the impact of food insecurity on children’s well-being especially relative to the social and emotional aspects of well-being.

Last Modified: 10/21/2014
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