Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Local social environmental factors are associated with household food insecurity in a longitudinal study of children

Megan Ann Carter1*, Lise Dubois12, Mark S Tremblay23 and Monica Taljaard24

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, 1 Stewart St, Ottawa (ON), Canada, K1N 6N5

2 Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa (ON), Canada, K1H 8M5

3 Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, 401 Smyth Road, Ottawa (ON), Canada, K1H 8L1

4 Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Clinical Epidemiology Program, 725 Parkdale Avenue, Ottawa (ON), Canada, K1Y 4E9

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1038  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1038

Published: 28 November 2012



Food insecurity is a significant public health problem in North America and elsewhere. The prevalence of food insecurity varies by country of residence; within countries, it is strongly associated with household socioeconomic status, but the local environment may also play an important role. In this study, we analyzed secondary data from a population-based survey conducted in Québec, Canada, to determine if five local environmental factors: material and social deprivation, social cohesion, disorder, and living location were associated with changes in household food insecurity over a period of 6 years, while adjusting for household socioeconomic status (SES) and other factors.


Data from the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, following same-aged children from 4–10 y of age, were analyzed using generalized estimating equations, to determine the longitudinal association between these environmental factors and food insecurity over a period of 6 years.


Of the 2120 children originally included in the cohort, 1746 (82%) were included in the present analysis. The prevalence of food insecurity was 9.2% when children were 4 y of age (95% CI: 7.8 – 10.6%) but no significant changes were observed over time. On average over the 6 year period, three environmental factors were positively related to food insecurity: high social deprivation (OR 1.62, 95%CI: 1.16 – 2.26), low social cohesion (OR 1.45 95%CI: 1.10 – 1.92), and high disorder (OR 1.76, 95%CI: 1.37 – 2.27), while living location and material deprivation were not related to food insecurity. These associations were independent of household SES and other social variables.


These results highlight the potential role of the local social environment in preventing and ameliorating food insecurity at the household level. Stakeholders providing food security interventions at the community level should consider interactions with local social characteristics and perhaps changing the social environment itself. Further intervention research also examining interactions with household-level factors could lead to the development of interventions that increase both household and community-level food security.

Food insecurity; Social capital; Social cohesion; Disorder; Deprivation; Neighbourhood; Longitudinal study; Environment; Context