Both obesity and food insecurity are important public health problems facing young children in the United States. A lack of affordable, healthy foods is one of the neighborhood factors presumed to underlie both food insecurity and obesity among children. We examine associations between local food prices and children’s BMI, weight, and food security outcomes.
We linked data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, a nationally representative study of children from infancy to age 5, to local food price data from the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) Cost-of-Living Index (n = 11 700 observations). Using ordinary least squares (OLS), linear probability, and within-child fixed effects (FE) models, we exploit the variability in food price data over time and among children who move residences focusing on a subsample of households under 300% of the Federal Poverty Level.
Results from ordinary least squares and FE models indicate that higher-priced fruits and vegetables are associated with higher child BMI, and this relationship is driven by the prices of fresh (versus frozen or canned) fruits and vegetables. In the FE models, higher-priced soft drinks are associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight, and surprisingly, higher fast food prices are associated with a greater likelihood of being overweight.
Policies that reduce the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables may be effective in promoting healthy weight outcomes among young children.