Food insecurity and child behavior problems in fragile families

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Abstract

Food insecurity remains a persistent problem in the United States. Several studies have shown that food insecurity is associated with child externalizing and internalizing behavior problems. However, some potential methodological limitations remain. For example, most studies use a household measure of food insecurity while there is evidence that children, especially younger ones, tend to be shielded by their parents from experiencing food insecurity. In addition, the mechanisms through which food insecurity affects children are not well understood. This study uses longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to address these limitations. Fixed-effects models show that the association is even larger using a measure of child food insecurity instead of a household one. Correlated-random effects models show a large difference in child behavior problems between food secure and food insecure children due to unobserved heterogeneity. In addition, the association between child food insecurity and child externalizing behaviors remains largely unexplained while food insecurity among adults explains almost all the variation in the association with child internalizing behaviors. Food insecure children and parents are at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, which may lead to behavior problems in young children. These findings underscore the need for greater focus on reducing the risk of food insecurity, especially for children in fragile families, in order to reduce behavior problems and improve their educational attainment.

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