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Appetite. 2007 Jul;49(1):198-207. Epub 2007 Feb 22.

Growing up poor: long-term implications for eating patterns and body weight.

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Division of Nutritional Sciences, 376 MVR Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


This study aimed to understand how poverty-associated food deprivation in childhood contributes to the well-known relationship between low socioeconomic status (SES) in childhood and obesity in the adult years. Thirty low-income, rural women with at least one child were followed for over three years with annual semi-structured interviews collecting quantitative and qualitative data. For the quantitative portion, the measures of interest were body mass index (BMI), food insecurity, eating patterns, and SES. For the qualitative portion, text from the interviews was analyzed using the constant comparative method. Growing up in a poor household was associated with increased risk of overweight and obesity in adulthood. Experiences of poverty-associated food deprivation in childhood appeared to super-motivate some women to actively avoid food insecurity in adulthood. It also influenced the women's current food preferences. Tremendous excitement accompanied the availability of food after periods of deprivation in both the women and their children. Some women had used food to meet emotional needs in childhood and overeating had become a generalized response to negative emotional states in the adult years. Food deprivation in childhood and associated attitudes and behaviors towards food are one possible mechanism for explaining the association between childhood poverty and adult obesity.

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