Food insecurity refers to a lack of food or sufficient quantities or quality of food necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Children living in poverty often experience food insecurity in their homes.
The study used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort and analyzed 3,700 low-income households with data on food insecurity and children’s outcomes.
Researchers analyzed links between the timing and intensity of food insecurity and children’s reading, math and social-emotional scores in kindergarten.
The study showed children with food insecurity in early childhood were more likely to be less prepared to start kindergarten compared to children from food secure households.
“Timing of food insecurity matters,” Anna Johnson, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown, said in a press release. “In our study, food insecurity in infancy and toddlerhood predicted lower cognitive and social-emotional skills in kindergarten, skills that can predict later success in academics and life.”
Researchers found food insecurity during preschool years was less related to performance in kindergarten than in early childhood but still had negative associations.
The study also showed that the number of times a child experienced food insecurity had an impact on kindergarten readiness and performance.
“Having more episodes of food insecurity in early childhood — that is, having three episodes of food insecurity versus one or two — was linked with poorer outcomes in kindergarten across all areas of development,” Johnson said.
Researchers said they could not rule out the possibility that an unobserved factor caused both increased food insecurity and decreased kindergarten skills.
“Nevertheless, these findings are worrisome,” Anna Markowitz, a postdoctoral research associate in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, said. “Increasing the generosity of food assistance programs and ensuring that they reach children whose families are food insecure or at risk for food insecurity in the earliest years — when children are 2 or younger — could boost the early school success of these vulnerable children.”
The study was published in the journal Child Development.