Food Insecurity Linked to Cardiometabolic Risks in Hispanic/Latino Youths

March 17, 2022

Hispanic/Latino youths with limited access to nutritionally adequate food—especially those whose parents were foreign-born—had worse cardiometabolic profiles than their “food secure” counterparts, according to a study published in Pediatrics. Until now, little was known about the role of food insecurity on youths’ physical health. 

Given the increase in food insecurity that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for Hispanic/Latino immigrant families, these findings may also foreshadow concerning trends for the health and well-being of Hispanic/Latino youth, noted the researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, University of Southern California, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Harvard University, San Diego State University, and Einstein College of Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that food insecurity in adults was associated with cardiometabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. Food insecurity affects about 14 percent of households with youths, a disproportionate number of whom are Hispanic/Latino.

The researchers sought to determine whether food insecurity among Hispanic/Latino youth is associated with metabolic syndrome and other cardiometabolic markers, including waist circumference, fasting plasma glucose (FG), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), triglycerides (TGs), and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

They analyzed data from 1,325 Hispanic/Latino youths ages 8-16 years participating in the Hispanic Community Children’s Health Study/Study of Latino Youth, which began with a baseline clinic visit between 2012 and 2014. Study participants were recruited from the Bronx, N.Y., Chicago, Miami, and San Diego.

Household and child food insecurity were assessed using the U.S. Department of Agriculture 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module.

Results showed youths in the lowest household and child food security categories had significantly worse HDL-C levels than those with high food security. Low/very low child food security was also associated with greater FG, TGs, and metabolic syndrome than high child food security.

Findings were strongest among youth with foreign-born parents/caregivers and whose families did not receive any food assistance in the previous year. 

“Nutrition policies are needed to improve Hispanic/Latino families’ access to food assistance programs, and we call on health care providers to consider early screening for food insecurity to identify youths who may benefit from additional resources,” noted the authors. 

“As food prices continue to rise as a consequence of the pandemic and other world events, it will be important to develop interventions to more effectively address food insecurity,” said senior author Sandra Albrecht, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “Our findings suggest that this will be especially important for households that may not qualify for federal aid.”

Co-authors are Luis E. Maldonado, University of Southern California; Daniela Sotres-Alvarez, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Josiemer Mattei, Harvard University; Krista M. Perreira, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Amanda C. McClain, San Diego State University; Linda C. Gallo, San Diego State University; and Carmen R. Isasi, Einstein College of Medicine. 

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants HL102130, HL129969, DK107791, HD050924).