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Dr. Rachel Gross, Albert Einstein College of Medicine – Food Insecurity and Obesity

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Rachel Gross of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University explains how fears about not having enough to eat can contribute to obesity.

Rachel Gross is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Her research is focused on the development of early childhood obesity prevention strategies, the identification of the early antecedents of child obesity in low-income minority families, and detecting factors that impact early infant-caregiver feeding interactions. The food insecurity study was conducted in collaboration with the New York University School of Medicine - Bellevue Hospital Center. She earned her M.D. at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

About Dr. Gross

Dr. Rachel Gross – Food Insecurity and Obesity

During these difficult economic times, more than one in five children in the United States lives in poverty. Many families in poverty struggle to have enough food to feed their families, a problem called food insecurity. Contrary to beliefs that this would lead to children becoming underweight, many studies have instead linked food insecurity to child obesity.

In our current work, we aimed to understand how a mother’s concern about having enough food could be associated with feeding practices related to child obesity. We surveyed low-income mothers with infants in the first six months of life, all of whom were receiving Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition benefits.

We found that 35% of the mothers had concerns about having enough food to feed their family. We found that food insecurity did not affect what the infants were fed, such as the amount of breast milk or formula, but instead how infants were fed. Mothers with concerns about feeding their family exhibited more control over their infant’s feeding, either by limiting their intake even when the baby was hungry or by pressuring the infant to eat even when the infant was full. Other studies have shown that when mothers are too controlling, it may disrupt the infant’s ability to know when he is hungry or full, and this may lead to overeating and inappropriate weight gain.

These findings emphasize that despite participating in federally funded nutrition assistance programs, many families experience food insecurity. Increasing this support for food insecure families is important, since concerns about not having enough food may impact feeding practices linked to child obesity.

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