Household food insecurity – a lack of access to food for a healthy, active life – drastically increases the risk of developing metabolic diseases, especially among children and young adults.

According to a new study, most adolescents start exhibiting markers of chronic disease before graduating high school.

Looking Into The Problem Of Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is a threat to health that can be potentially prevented. Despite this, 14.3 percent of US households lack basic access to food, and 19.5 percent of such households have children.

Lead researcher David Holben, PhD, Professor and Department Chair of Nutrition and Hospitality Management at the University of Mississippi labeled household food insecurity to be a ‘looming health issue’ for the US. The number of households with significantly low levels of food insecurity, especially among children, has almost doubled between 2003 and 2010.

To examine the effects of lack of accessibility to basic food, researchers from the University of Mississippi and Ohio State University gave the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey to a cross-sectional sample of more than 7,500 young adults between the ages of 12 and 18. The participants were also interviewed and physically examined between 1999 and 2006.

Linking Food Insecurity To Disease

Data analysis revealed that participants from low, marginally low and very low food security households were 33 to 44 percent more likely to be overweight, as opposed to participants from food secure households.

Moreover, children experiencing marginal to very low food security were 1.5 times more likely to fit the criteria of central obesity (excessive fat deposition around the abdomen and stomach). The latter is significantly associated with heart disease and diabetes.

Co-author Christopher Taylor, PhD, Associate Professor of Medical Dietetics and Family Medicine at Ohio State University explained that food-insecure families often have to choose between healthy food and food that is too expensive – a fairly difficult and unfair decision. He suggests that physicians should assist patients in identifying local food banks or Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs to bridge this gap.

Start With The Schools

According to Dr. Ulrick Vieux, DO, MS, an American Osteopathic Association health policy fellow and Psychiatry Residency Program director at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, NY, claims that efforts to improve access to nutritional and adequate food must begin at school. Children must be given three proper, balanced meals; a luxury they may not enjoy at home.

“Many children rely on healthier school meals for adequate nutrition, something they may not be exposed to at home or in their community”, explained Dr. Vieux. “It’s important that we promote and strive for federal and private policies to ensure our children receive the nutrition they need to minimize future obesity-related complications”.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.