Food Insecurity and Maternal and Child Feeding Habits

November 23, 2020

Food insecurity is a large issue in the United States, with 10.5% of American households reporting food insecurity in 2019[1]. Children are especially vulnerable to this issue and face some of the most detrimental effects, with a potentially huge negative impact on a child’s mental and physical health[2]. For this reason, RTI studied the impact that changes in food security can have on maternal and toddler feeding habits, with the goal of seeing whether there is an indirect or direct link to maternal and toddler feeding habits, which are often linked to overall health.

The report, Hunger in the household: Food insecurity and associations with maternal eating and toddler feeding, found that changes in food security often caused mothers to eat more restrictively. Maternal feeding habits often trickle into toddler feeding habits, indirectly.

The ideal feeding pattern would be responsive feeding habits for toddlers rather than modeling restrictive feeding habits. As, restrictive eating practices can result in overeating when food is more readily available, and is linked to obesity, weight fluctuations, and can have adverse health effects and adverse psychological effects. Conversely, responsive eating, or intuitive eating, relies on eating when one is hungry, and not eating when one is full. However, for families that are food insecure or experiencing more insecurity than normal, responsive eating for all family members might be difficult to achieve.

A common misconception is that parents can protect their children from the impact of food insecurity through methods like restricting their own eating. A mother who is restricting her eating due to food insecurity might experience additional psychological stress, impacting her ability to properly interpret a toddler’s feeding cues.

Additionally, previous research indicates that children who grow up in food insecure environments with mothers that restrict their eating will also experience psychological stress, and may also feel responsible for food insecurity and may begin to restrict their own eating habits as a result.

These results are especially relevant during the current COVID pandemic, where many families are reporting increases in food insecurity as a result of the overall economic instability and heightened unemployment. As the research states, fluctuations in food security had the larges impact on maternal eating habits. This sustained period of uncertainty may have lasting impacts on children beyond what is expected.

Read the full article here.

[1] USDA, Food Security in the US: Key Statistics, https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx#:~:text=Food-insecure%20households%20include%20those%20with%20low%20food%20security,2019.%20Significantly%20down%20from%2011.1%20percent%20in%202018.

[2] Armstrong, B, Hepworth, AD, Black, MM. Hunger in the household: Food insecurity and associations with maternal eating and toddler feeding. Pediatric Obesity. 2020; 15:e12637. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijpo.12637