The University Record, May 7, 2001

Hungry children get sick more often

By Colleen Newvine
News and Information Services

Low-income children and children whose families sometimes or often do not have enough food are at higher risk of poor health, according to a new study.

The study, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health, was conducted by Katherine Alaimo, formerly at Cornell University and now a Community Health Scholar at the School of Public Health; Christine Olson, the Hazel E. Reed Human Ecology Extension Professor in Family Policy and a professor of nutritional sciences, and Edward Frongillo Jr., associate professor of nutritional sciences, both at Cornell University; and Ronette Briefel, senior research fellow at Mathematica Policy Research Inc., formerly the National Center for Health Statistics.

It is generally accepted that not getting enough to eat has severe consequences for children in countries poorer than the United States, but this is the first national U.S. study to determine whether the level of food deprivation domestically is severe enough to affect children’s health status. The authors compared low-income children to high-income children and hungry children with those children whose families had enough to eat.

Analyzing data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), which was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics 1988–94, the researchers conclude that, “Over and above living in poverty, living in families that do not get enough food to eat is associated with adverse health outcomes among U.S. children, and thus food security is a critical component of child health policy.”

NHANES surveys are the most comprehensive health and nutrition surveys the federal government conducts. The survey examined more than 11,000 children ages 1–16. Among other questions, it asked a family head to describe the food eaten by the family. During the study period, more than 15 percent of low-income children lived in families that sometimes or often did not get enough to eat—that equates to about 4 million U.S. children.

Children whose families sometimes or often do not have enough food are more likely to have poorer health and to experience more frequent stomachaches and headaches.