Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

12P The Longitudinal Relationship Between Food Insecurity and Child Behavior Problems Among School-Aged Children

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jeong-Hee Ryu, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background and Purpose: This study examines the longitudinal impacts of food insecurity on behavioral problems among school-aged children. Food insecurity is a prominent social problem and an important policy concern. In particular, in recent years, the incidence of food insecurity has increased strikingly with the onset of the economic recession. Nearly 14.6 percent of U.S. households faced food insecurity in 2008—the highest recorded prevalence since the initiation of national food insecurity surveys in 1995. Food insecurity is not a static condition and understanding the dynamic patterns of food insecurity is important, to accurately assess the consequences of food insecurity. An emerging body of research has found food insecurity is associated with a wide array of detrimental health and developmental outcomes for children. Evidence of a link between food insecurity and child behavioral development, however, remains inconclusive and there is little consistency across studies. The study seeks to gain further insight by looking at the relationship between long-term food security patterns and child behavior problems over a 5-year period, and including detailed controls for poverty history to better isolate the impact of food insecurity per se. Methods: This study uses three waves of data (kindergarten, 3rd , and 5th grade) from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). 5,793 children with full information on household food security status at all time points are selected for the analyses. Child behavioral outcomes include externalizing and internalizing behavior problems that are assessed by teacher during 5th grade. Food insecurity is measured at three time points, based on the USDA food security scale. I develop a four-category classification to summarize trajectory of food insecurity over time: persistently food insecure, twice food insecure, once food insecure, and never food insecure. Control variables include baseline child behavior problems, a variety of child, family, and school characteristics, and summary measure of poverty status, defined analogously to the food insecurity variables. A lagged dependent variable model using ordinary least squares (OLS) regression is utilized for the study. Results: Descriptive statistics suggest that food insecurity over time tends to be transient rather than persistent conditions. 83% of children are food secure at all three time points. Conversely, only 1.8% of children are persistently food insecure at all time points. Multivariate results show that transient food insecurity is significantly associated with behavioral problems. Specifically, children that have experience food insecurity once are more likely to have greater level of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, relative to children from household that are never food insecure. On the other hand, persistent food insecurity is not significantly associated with both internalizing and externalizing problems. Conclusions and Implications: The findings demonstrate that transient food insecurity is associated with increased risk of childhood behavior problems. These findings add to a growing body of evidence that food insecurity is a risk factor of behavioral development among school-aged children. Furthermore, this research suggests that policy interventions that alleviate household food insecurity may be effective in promoting psychosocial development and well-being of children.