Food insecurity, weight control practices and body mass index in adolescents

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Abstract

Objective

We investigated whether experienced food insecurity was associated with weight control behaviour of adolescents.

Design

A national survey of 16-year-old students with the six-item food security scale, questions concerning intentions of trying to change weight, physical activity patterns, and measurement of height and weight.

Setting

Representative sample of 29 schools in Trinidad, West Indies.

Subjects

Data analysed for 1903 subjects including 1484 who were food-secure and 419 who were food-insecure.

Results

In the whole sample, food security status did not vary by body mass index (BMI) category. ‘Trying to gain weight’ and ‘spending most free time in activities involving little physical effort’ were each associated with lower BMI. ‘Trying to gain weight’ was more frequent in food-insecure subjects (135, 32%) than in food-secure subjects (369, 25%, P=0.012). After adjustment for BMI, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic variables, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) of ‘trying to gain weight’ for food-insecure subjects was 1.39 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.07–1.82, P=0.014). Food-insecure subjects (197, 47%) were more likely than food-secure subjects (575, 39%) to report that most of their free time was spent doing things that involved little physical effort (P=0.003). This association was not explained by adjustment for BMI, age, sex and ethnicity (OR=1.41, 95% CI 1.13–1.76, P=0.002) or additional socio-economic variables (OR=1.27, 95% CI 1.02–1.57, P=0.033).

Conclusions

Adolescents who experience food insecurity are more likely to intend to gain weight but engage in less physical activity than food-secure subjects with the same BMI.

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