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About Sickkids
About SickKids

March 15, 2018

Food insecurity associated with unhealthy eating habits in preschoolers

Photo of Catherine Birken

Household food insecurity, or inadequate access to food due to cost, has been shown to have negative consequences on health in children and families.

Using data gathered by TARGet Kids!, researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) examined if parent report of difficulty buying food, a potential marker of food insecurity, was associated with body mass index (BMI) and eating habits in 3,099 young children from one to five years old.

The findings, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, showed significant differences in the eating habits of preschool-aged children whose parents reported difficulty buying food compared to children whose parents did not report difficulty. The children in households with difficulty buying food showed a lower intake of fruits and vegetables and a higher intake of unhealthy foods such as sweetened beverages. Difficulty buying food was associated with increased fast food intake in participants less than two years of age. No difference in BMI between the two groups of children was found.

“Our findings show that difficulty buying food may impact food choices for children. In the short term, clinicians should encourage healthy food choices that are appropriate and accessible based on individual families. In the long term, understanding the different ways food insecurity affects child health and development will help us to develop strategies and inform policies for prevention of food insecurity and promotion of healthy growth and development in children,” says Dr. Catherine Birken, Senior Investigator of the study, Staff Paediatrician and Scientist at SickKids.

This research is an initiative of TARGet Kids!, a primary care research network co-led by SickKids and St. Michael’s Hospital and is an example of how SickKids and St. Michael’s Hospital are contributing to making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier and Smarter. www.healthierwealthiersmarter.ca.