Skip to main content Accessibility help

The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children

  • Erin L Faught (a1), Patty L Williams (a2), Noreen D Willows (a3), Mark Asbridge (a4) and Paul J Veugelers (a1)...



Education is a crucial social determinant of health. Food insecurity can be detrimental to children’s academic achievement, potentially perpetuating a cycle of poverty and food insecurity. We aimed to assess the relationship between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children.


Cross-sectional study of children and parents. Parents completed the short-form Household Food Security Survey Module and questions about income and education level (socio-economic status). Children completed FFQ. Data were prospectively linked to children’s performance on standardized exams written one year later. Mixed-effect logistic regression was employed to assess the relationship between food insecurity and likelihood of meeting academic expectations adjusting for socio-economic status, diet quality and potential confounders.


Nova Scotia, Canada in 2011–2012.


Students (n 4105) in grade 5 (10–11 years; 2167 girls) and their parents.


Low food security was reported by 9·8 % of households; very low food security by 7·1 % of households. Students from low-income households and reporting poor diet quality were less likely to do well in school. Children who lived in households reporting very low food security had 0·65 times the odds (OR=0·65; 95 % CI 0·44, 0·96) of meeting expectations for reading and 0·62 times the odds (OR=0·62; 95 % CI 0·45, 0·86) of meeting expectations for mathematics.


Very low household insecurity is associated with poor academic achievement among children in Nova Scotia.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

* Corresponding author: Email


Hide All
1. Marmot, M (2005) Social determinants of health inequalities. Lancet 365, 10991104.
2. Mikkonen, J & Raphael, D (2010) Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts . Toronto: York University School of Health Policy and Management.
3. Sriram, U & Tarasuk, V (2015) Changes in household food insecurity rates in Canadian metropolitan areas from 2007 to 2012. Can J Public Health 106, e322e327.
4. Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A & Dacher, N (2016) Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2014. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF).
5. Vozoris, NT & Tarasuk, VS (2003) Household food insufficiency is associated with poorer health. J Nutr 133, 120126.
6. Holben, DH, American Dietetic Association (2010) Position of the American Dietetic Association: food insecurity in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc 110, 13681377.
7. Gundersen, C & Ziliak, JP (2015) Food insecurity and health outcomes. Health Aff (Millwood) 34, 18301839.
8. Olson, CM (1999) Nutrition and health outcomes associated with food insecurity and hunger. J Nutr 129, 2S Suppl., 521S524S.
9. Roustit, C, Hamelin, A-M, Grillo, F et al. (2010) Food insecurity: could school food supplementation help break cycles of intergenerational transmission of social inequalities? Pediatrics 126, 11741181.
10. Jacknowitz, A, Morrissey, T & Brannegan, A (2012) Food insecurity across the first five years: triggers of onset and exit. Child Youth Serv Rev 53, 2433.
11. Jyoti, DF, Frongillo, EA & Jones, SJ (2005) Food insecurity affects school children’s academic performance, weight gain, and social skills. J Nutr 135, 28312839.
12. Perez-Escamilla, R & Pinheiro de Toledo Vianna, R (2012) Food insecurity and the behavioral and intellectual development of children: a review of the evidence. J Appl Res Child Inform Policy Child Risk 3, 9.
13. Belachew, T, Hadley, C, Lindstrom, D et al. (2011) Food insecurity, school absenteeism and educational attainment of adolescents in Jimma Zone Southwest Ethiopia: a longitudinal study. Nutr J 10, 29.
14. Hannum, E, Liu, J & Frongillo, EA (2014) Poverty, food insecurity and nutritional deprivation in rural China: Implications for children’s literacy achievement. Int J Educ Dev 34, 9097.
15. Saha, KK, Tofail, F, Frongillo, EA et al. (2010) Household food security is associated with early childhood language development: results from a longitudinal study in rural Bangladesh. Child Care Health Dev 36, 309316.
16. Frank, L (2013) 2013 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia: 1989–2011. Nova Scotia: Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.
17. Kirk, SFL, Kuhle, S, McIsaac, J-LD et al. (2015) Food security status among grade 5 students in Nova Scotia, Canada and its association with health outcomes. Public Health Nutr 18, 29432951.
18. Faught, EL, Ekwaru, JP, Gleddie, D et al. (2017) The combined impact of diet, physical activity, screen time, and sleep on academic achievement: a prospective study of grade five students in Nova Scotia, Canada. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 14, 29.
19. Sirin, SR (2005) Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: a meta-analytic review of research. Rev Educ Res 75, 417453.
20. Chaudry, A & Wimer, C (2016) Poverty is not just an indicator: the relationship between income, poverty, and child well-being. Acad Pediatr 16, 3 Suppl., S23S29.
21. Rockett, HR, Breitenbach, M, Frazier, AL et al. (1997) Validation of a youth/adolescent food frequency questionnaire. Prev Med 26, 808816.
22. Willett, W (2013) Nutritional Epidemiology , 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
23. Bickel, G, Nord, M, Price, C et al. (2000) Guide to Measuring Household Food Security, Revised 2000. Alexandria, VA: US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.
24. Blumberg, SJ, Bialostosky, K, Hamilton, WL et al. (1999) The effectiveness of a short form of the Household Food Security Scale. Am J Public Health 89, 12311234.
25. Kim, S, Haines, PS, Siega-Riz, AM et al. (2003) The Diet Quality Index-International (DQI-I) provides an effective tool for cross-national comparison of diet quality as illustrated by China and the United States. J Nutr 133, 34763484.
26. World Health Organization (2015) Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children. Geneva: WHO.
27. US Departments of Health and Human Services & US Department of Agriculture (2010) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. (accessed July 2015).
28. Cole, TJ, Cole, TJ, Bellizzi, MC et al. (2000) Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey. BMJ 320, 12401243.
29. Kowalski, KC, Crocker, P & Donen, R (2004) The Physical Activity Questionnaire for Older Children (PAQ-C) and Adolescents (PAQ-A) Manual. Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan.
30. National Sleep Foundation (2015) Children and Sleep. (accessed August 2016).
31. Voss, C, Ogunleye, AA & Sandercock, GRH (2013) Physical Activity Questionnaire for children and adolescents: English norms and cut-off points. Pediatr Int 55, 498507.
32. Tremblay, MS, LeBlanc, AG & Janssen, I (2011) Canadian sedentary behaviour guidelines for children and youth. Appl Phys Nutr Metab 36, 5964.
33. Veugelers, PJ & Fitzgerald, AL (2005) Effectiveness of school programs in preventing childhood obesity: a multilevel comparison. Am J Public Health 95, 435435.
34. Shankar, P, Chung, R & Frank, DA (2017) Association of food insecurity with children’s behavioral, emotional, and academic outcomes: a systematic review. J Dev Behav Pediatr 38, 135150.
35. Alaimo, K, Olson, CM & Frongillo, EA (2001) Food insufficiency and American school-aged children’s cognitive, academic, and psychosocial development. Pediatrics 108, 4453.
36. Farahbakhsh, J, Hanbazaza, M, Ball, G et al. (2017) Food insecure student clients of a university‐based food bank have compromised health, dietary intake and academic quality. Nutr Diet 74, 6773.
37. Kimbro, RT & Denney, JT (2015) Transitions into food insecurity associated with behavioral problems and worse overall health among children. Health Aff (Millwood) 34, 19491955.
38. Duong, MC, Mora-Plazas, M & Marín, C (2015) Vitamin B-12 deficiency in children is associated with grade repetition and school absenteeism, independent of folate, iron, zinc, or vitamin a status biomarkers. J Nutr 145, 15411548.
39. Ashiabi, GS & O’Neal, KK (2008) A framework for understanding the association between food insecurity and children’s developmental outcomes. Child Dev Perspect 2, 7177.
40. Melchior, M, Chastang, J-F, Falissard, B et al. (2012) Food insecurity and children’s mental health: a prospective birth cohort study. PLoS One 7, e52615.
41. Murphy, JM, Wehler, CA, Pagano, ME et al. (1998) Relationship between hunger and psychosocial functioning in low-income American children. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 37, 163170.
42. Ashiabi, G (2005) Household food insecurity and children’s school engagement. J Child Poverty 11, 317.
43. Whitaker, RC, Phillips, SM & Orzol, SM (2006) Food insecurity and the risks of depression and anxiety in mothers and behavior problems in their preschool-aged children. Pediatrics 118, e859e868.
44. Taras, H (2005) Nutrition and student performance at school. J Sch Health 75, 199213.
45. Frongillo, EA, Jyoti, DF & Jones, SJ (2006) Food Stamp Program participation is associated with better academic learning among school children. J Nutr 136, 10771080.
46. Faulkner, G, Burrows, T, White, L et al. (2016) Is there an association between dietary intake and academic achievement: a systematic review. J Hum Nutr Diet 30, 117140.
47. Maxwell, SE & Cole, DA (2007) Bias in cross-sectional analyses of longitudinal mediation. Psychol Methods 12, 2344.
48. Schisterman, EF, Cole, SR & Platt, RW (2009) Overadjustment bias and unnecessary adjustment in epidemiologic studies. Epidemiology 20, 488495.
49. Tarasuk, V, Cheng, J, de Oliveira, C et al. (2015) Association between household food insecurity and annual health care costs. CMAJ 187, E429E436.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed