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Childhood food insecurity and incident asthma: a population-based cohort study of children in Ontario, Canada

Clemens KK, Le B, Ouédraogo AM, Mackenzie C, Vinegar M, Shariff SZ. PLoS One. 2021; 16(6):e0252301. Epub 2021 Jun 9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252301


Background — Childhood food insecurity has been associated with prevalent asthma in cross-sectional studies. Little is known about the relationship between food insecurity and incident asthma.

Methods — We used administrative databases linked with the Canadian Community Health Survey, to conduct a retrospective cohort study of children <18 years in Ontario, Canada. Children without a previous diagnosis of asthma who had a household response to the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) were followed until March 31, 2018 for new asthma diagnoses using a validated administrative coding algorithm. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazard models to examine the association between food insecurity and incident asthma, and adjusted models sequentially for clinical and clinical/socioeconomic risk factors. As additional analyses, we examined associations by HFSSM respondent type, severity of food insecurity, and age of asthma diagnosis. Moreover, we assessed for interaction between food security and child's sex, household smoking status, and maternal asthma on the risk of incident asthma.

Results — Among the 27,746 included children, 5.1% lived in food insecure households. Over a median of 8.34 years, the incidence of asthma was 7.33/1000 person-years (PY) among food insecure children and 5.91/1000 PY among food secure children (unadjusted hazard ratio [HR] 1.24, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.54, p = 0.051). In adjusted analyses associations were similar (HR 1.16, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.47, p = 0.24 adjusted for clinical risk factors, HR 1.24, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.60, p = 0.09 adjusted for clinical/socioeconomic factors). Associations did not qualitatively change by HFSSM respondent type, severity of food insecurity, and age of asthma diagnosis. There was no evidence of interaction in our models.

Conclusions — Food insecure children have numerous medical and social challenges. However, in this large population-based study, we did not observe that childhood food insecurity was associated with an increased risk of incident asthma when adjusted for important clinical and socioeconomic confounders.

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