Kids' Behavior Linked to Food Insecurity

ADHD type symptoms were more common in kids who had less access to food options

January 11, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Food insecurity is the term used to describe children who are not sure about when and if good food will be available to them. Food insecurity may affect kids' behavior.

A recent study tracked kids until they were 8 years old. The kids who had limited access to foods when they were under age 5 were more than two times more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms when they were older.

This could be a nutrition issue or a psychological one, but working to decrease food insecurity may help kids.

"Ask a pediatrician about improving your child’s diet."

The study, led by Maria Melchior, ScD, an epidemiologist at INSERM in France, used data from the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Québec.

The study enrolled 2,120 children when they were five months old who lived in the Quebec, Canada region . The mother of each child was interviewed once a year until the child was 8 years old.

When the children were one and a half and again when they were four and half, mothers were asked about the children’s access to food. Mothers were asked if they ever had to eat less because there was not enough food or money to buy more food. They were also asked if they ever had to eat the same things over and over because they could not afford to buy other foods.

A total of 5.9 percent of the kids had food insecurity, meaning their mothers answered yes to one of the questions about food.

When the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old, mothers were asked questions about their children’s behavior and mental health.

Researchers realized that mental health problems in parents, family income, mother’s age and poor parenting styles could influence the child’s mental health. So they took these factors into account. 

The researchers found that kids with food insecurity were about two and half times more likely to have attention and hyperactivity symptoms.

The authors concluded that families and social services should work on food insecurity issues among children to help lower the likelihood that kids will have struggles associated with ADHD-type symptoms.

The authors said that this study could not show cause. This result could reflect nutrition problems or other parenting factors not measured by this study.

The study did not diagnose ADHD, but only asked mothers about symptoms that are associated with the disorder. So this study cannot say that food insecurity is linked with ADHD – just some symptoms of the disorder.

This study was published December 26 in PLoSOne. The study was funded by Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Quebec Fund for Research on Society and Culture, the University of Montreal and various other Canadian national organizations for research and health. The authors reported no competing interests.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 9, 2013
Last Updated:
January 11, 2013