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Feeding her children, but risking her health: The intersection of gender, household food insecurity and obesity

  • Martin, Molly A.
  • Lippert, Adam M.
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    This paper investigates one explanation for the consistent observation of a strong, negative correlation in the United States between income and obesity among women, but not men. We argue that a key factor is the gendered expectation that mothers are responsible for feeding their children. When income is limited and households face food shortages, we predict that an enactment of these gendered norms places mothers at greater risk for obesity relative to child-free women and all men. We adopt an indirect approach to study these complex dynamics using data on men and women of childrearing age and who are household heads or partners in the 1999–2003 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). We find support for our prediction: Food insecure mothers are more likely than child-free men and women and food insecure fathers to be overweight or obese and to gain more weight over four years. The risks are greater for single mothers relative to mothers in married or cohabiting relationships. Supplemental models demonstrate that this pattern cannot be attributed to post-pregnancy biological changes that predispose mothers to weight gain or an evolutionary bias toward biological children. Further, results are unchanged with the inclusion of physical activity, smoking, drinking, receipt of food stamps, or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program participation. Obesity, thus, offers a physical expression of the vulnerabilities that arise from the intersection of gendered childcare expectations and poverty.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953611007271
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

    Volume (Year): 74 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 11 ()
    Pages: 1754-1764

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:74:y:2012:i:11:p:1754-1764
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    1. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Cawley, John, 2008. "Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 519-529, March.
    2. John Fitzgerald & Peter Gottschalk & Robert Moffitt, 1998. "An Analysis of Sample Attrition in Panel Data: The Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics," NBER Technical Working Papers 0220, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
    4. Patrick Royston, 2005. "Multiple imputation of missing values: update," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 5(2), pages 188-201, June.
    5. George J. Borjas, 2001. "Food Insecurity and Public Assistance," JCPR Working Papers 243, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    6. Patrick Royston, 2005. "Multiple imputation of missing values: Update of ice," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 5(4), pages 527-536, December.
    7. Glass, Thomas A. & McAtee, Matthew J., 2006. "Behavioral science at the crossroads in public health: Extending horizons, envisioning the future," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(7), pages 1650-1671, April.
    8. Nord, Mark & Andrews, Margaret S. & Carlson, Steven, 2004. "Household Food Security In The United States, 2003," Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Reports 33835, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    9. Gundersen, Craig & Kreider, Brent, 2008. "Bounding the Effects of Food Insecurity on Children's Health Outcomes," Staff General Research Papers 13008, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    10. Rose, Donald & Gunderson, Craig & Oliveira, Victor, 1998. "Socio-Economic Determinants of Food Insecurity in the United States: Evidence from the SIPP and CSFII Datasets," Technical Bulletins 184377, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
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