Three essays on food insecurity and child welfare

Kuku, Oluyemisi
Major Professor
Steven B. Garasky
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

Three major issues affecting the welfare of children are investigated in three papers in this dissertation. These issues are the intra-household allocation of resources, food insecurity and obesity. The first two papers are focused on the issue of intra-household allocation of food resources and food insecurity in a developing country setting, namely Zimbabwe, while the relationship between food insecurity and obesity is investigated n the United States.

In the first paper, a 2004 household survey of children in Zimbabwe is utilized to investigate differences in self-reports of food insecurity. A bivariate ordered probit regression is utilized to investigate any differences in reports of food insecurity between boys and girls. Findings reveal that all categories of children report roughly the same level of food security with the exception of orphan girls, who are significantly more likely to report food insecurity.

The second paper is also focused on the intra-household allocation of food, this time between adults and children. Bivariate comparisons are utilized to highlight the magnitude of differences in the perception of food inadequacy and food insecurity, while bivariate probit regressions provide more insight into sources of these differences. Children are more likely than adults to report food security, although the differences are not uniform across households. A substantial number of households have children who are food inadequate or food insecure while the adult is not. In addition, there is evidence of a tendency to protect younger children and discriminate against female orphans in food distribution.

The third paper utilizes nonparametric approaches and two nationally representative data sets to investigate the relationship between food insecurity and obesity in the United States. Nonparametric approaches are utilized to portray possible subtleties in the relationship between food insecurity and obesity over the full range of body mass index (BMI)-based percentiles of children in different racial and socioeconomic categories. The relationship between food insecurity and childhood obesity is revealed to be nonlinear and complex. More specifically, there is a strong positive association between food insecurity and age-gender based BMI percentiles for children who are low food secure or very low food secure. This positive association is consistent across a range of racial and socio-economic subgroups, and also across both data sets.