Objectives: Despite the high prevalence rates of food insecurity and obesity among children of Hispanic immigrants, there has been a dearth of research on the direct relationship between food insecurity and obesity among this population. Further, prior research examining the association between food insecurity and body composition among children of Hispanic immigrants have not considered adiposity, specifically percent body fat (%BF) and waist circumference (WC), as outcome measurements. The following study contributes to the literature by examining the association between food insecurity and two adiposity measurements, %BF and WC, along with body mass index (BMI) among a sample of young Hispanic immigrant children.

Methods: Cross-sectional survey and direct body composition assessments were collected among 49 low-income Hispanic immigrant children (mean age = 5.5. years) and their 44 mothers (mean age = 35.5 years) from two Houston-area community centers. Data were collected on household food security status using the 18-item USDA scale, demographic characteristics, and measured height, weight, body fat percentage, and waist circumference from children and mothers.

Results: Sixty-five percent of children resided in a food insecure household, 31% of the children were obese in terms of %BF, and 24% were obese in terms of BMI. A greater percentage of food secure children were classified as obese in terms of %BF, BMI, and had an elevated waist circumference. A direct relationship was not observed between food insecurity and elevated waist circumference (OR = .08, p = .10); however, children living in food insecure households had 89% lower odds of having an elevated %BF (OR = 0.11, p < .01), 93% lower odds of being obese (OR = 0.07, p < .05), and 87% lower odds of being overweight/obese (OR = 0.13, p < .05).

Conclusions: In young children of Hispanic immigrants, food insecurity was related to healthier levels of %BF and BMI. Studies that track adiposity and weight status of children of Hispanic immigrants in relation to food insecurity over time are needed to further understand why food insecurity and obesity co-exist for some groups but not others.

Key Take Away Points

Among a sample of Hispanic immigrant children, a high prevalence rate of food insecurity was observed (63%); in addition, half of the children were classified as being overfat/obese in terms of their percent body fat.

Despite the high food insecurity prevalence rate and half of the children classified as overfat/obese, household food insecurity was associated with children having a lower odds of an elevated percent body fat.

In addition, household food insecurity was associated with children having a lower odds of being obese and overweight/obese compared to normal weight.

Author Biography

Daphne C. Hernandez, PhD, MSEd. Dr. Hernandez is an assistant professor of nutrition and obesity studies at the University of Houston. She specializes in health disparities research with a specific focus on the determinants and consequences of food insecurity. Her research has been previously funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is currently funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and Weight Watchers International.

Layton Reesor, BA. Ms. Reesor is a second year Kinesiology Ph.D. student at the University of Houston. Her research interests include health behaviors among low income families and weight gain patterns among children and adolescents. She is currently the project manager for the University of Houston Charter School Body Composition Study, investigating behavioral determinants of summer weight gain among elementary school children.

Yanely Alonso, BS. Ms. Alonso recently completed her undergraduate nutrition studies at the University of Houston. She is a recipient of two highly competitive research programs at the University of Houston, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program and the Provost Undergraduate Research Scholarship program. Both programs provided research support for her involvement as project manager and involvement in data collection in “La Salud de Mamá y Niños” study. She aspires to be a registered dietitian.

Sally Eagleton, MS. Ms. Eagleton recently completed her Masters in Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Her primary research interest is childhood obesity with a specific focus on family-based obesity prevention in the first years of life. She currently works for the Center for Family Resilience at OSU and recently published a first authored manuscript using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and a book chapter focused on fostering family resilience in pediatric obesity treatment.

Sheryl O. Hughes, Ph.D. Dr. Hughes is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. Her area of expertise includes feeding styles and practices of low-income families and their impact on the development of child eating behaviors and childhood obesity. Much of Dr. Hughes’ work on childhood obesity uses observational methodology in conjunction with questionnaires. Dr. Hughes has been funded through NIH and the United States Department of Agriculture.


Funding was provided by several University of Houston internal grant programs: College of Liberal Arts & Social Science Research Outreach Grant Program, Department of Health & Human Performance Summer Research Program, and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Faculty Summer Fellowship to Hernandez. In addition, the project received support from the University of Houston's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program to Alonso. Authors are thankful for the editorial assistance provided by Matthew Cross.