How is household food insecurity and maternal nutritional status associated in a resource-poor setting in Ghana?
© The Author(s) 2016
Received: 27 February 2016
Accepted: 27 May 2016
Published: 15 July 2016
Population-based studies show household food insecurity is associated with increased body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of overweight in adult women in developed countries. However, there is insufficient empirical evidence of the association between food insecurity and maternal nutritional status in resource-poor settings. This study investigated the relationship between household food insecurity (HFI) and maternal nutritional status in a resource-poor setting of Ghana, where some households suffer from some form of food insecurity during the year.
A community-based cross-sectional cluster study was conducted in June 2015. The study communities were selected using probability proportionate to size. The study population comprised non-lactating and non-pregnant women who were selected using a two-stage cluster sampling procedure. HFI was quantified using the Household Hunger Scale. Multiple regression analysis was conducted to test whether HFI significantly predicts maternal nutritional status, controlling for potential confounding factors. BMI was used to assess the nutritional status.
The prevalence of moderate to severe household hunger was 46.9 %. In analysis of covariance, while adjusting for household size, place of residence and household wealth index, the mean BMI for women from food-secure households was 1.4 kg/m2 significantly higher than the mean BMI for women from food-insecure households (25.7 ± 5.3 vs. 24.3 ± 4.0) (95 % CI 0.54–2.35), p = 0.002. Multivariable regression analysis showed that, after adjusting for potential confounders, there was a significant negative association between moderate to severe household hunger and BMI (β = −0.16, p < 0.001).
In conclusion, food insecurity in the study population was prevalent and was associated with low maternal BMI. Household food insecurity was negatively associated with maternal overweight and obesity. Women in food-secure households were more likely than food-insecure households to consume milk, pulses, oily and sugar-based foods.
KeywordsHousehold Hunger Scale Maternal nutrition Household food insecurity Body mass index Ghana
Food security is necessary for nutrition security. The concept of food security has been defined variously over the years. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Food Security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” . Food insecurity therefore exists whenever people are not able to access sufficient food at all times for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity refers to limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire food in socially acceptable ways . Food insecurity is an important global public health problem, having adverse consequences for individuals in both resource-poor and resource-rich environments . Though food insecurity can affect any one, its effect on women deserves special attention because of their social vulnerability to it.
Findings from some population-based studies suggest that food insecurity is associated with increased body mass index (BMI) and an increased risk of overweight or obesity in adult women in industrialized countries [4–9], but not all studies have reported this relationship . Furthermore, the extent this holds in resource-poor settings of developing countries is inconclusive [9, 11]. Studies from developing countries among adults and children have produced mixed results. For example, in Malaysia, household food insecurity was associated with obesity among rural women , while in Trinidad and Tobago, household food insecurity was associated with underweight among adults . In Guatemala, BMI of women from households classified as moderate to severe food insecure was significantly lower than BMI of women from food-secure households .
The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship between household food insecurity (HFI) and maternal nutritional status in the Wenchi Municipality of Ghana.
Study design, study population and sampling
A community-based cross-sectional cluster study was conducted in June 2015. To collect information from this group of people, a two-stage cluster sampling procedure was used to include households within clusters that were selected based on probability proportionate to size (PPS) method.
A sample size of 192 was required to ensure that the estimated prevalence of the main outcome variable was within plus or minus 5 % of the true prevalence at 95 % confidence level. Assuming a correction factor of 2 (the “design effect”) for cluster sampling, the sample size was increased to 384. But, 10 % of the estimated sample was calculated to take care of missing values and damage questionnaire, which was 38.4. So, the sample size (N) was 422.
The basic primary sampling unit was the household in which there was non-lactating or non-pregnant woman. In each cluster, a complete list of all households was compiled and systematic random sampling used in selecting study households. All the households in each cluster were serially numbered. To get the sampling interval, the total number of households in a cluster was divided by the cluster size. The first household was then randomly selected by picking any number within the sample interval. Subsequent selections were made by adding the sampling interval to the selected number in order to locate the next household to visit. If the selected household does not have a target respondent, then next household was selected using the systematic sampling procedure.
Household interviews were conducted to collect quantitative data from a cross-sectional sample of mother–child pairs on maternal and child anthropometry, maternal dietary intake, household wealth index and other socio-demographic determinants of nutritional status. Food intake was assessed by the 24-h recall method. Data collection was carried out among households in the rural and urban areas of Wenchi Municipality.
Assessment of dietary intake and household food security
The FAO validated 11-item food groups frequency questionnaire (FFQ) was used to quantify maternal dietary intake  in the past 24 h prior to the study.
Household food insecurity was quantified using the Household Hunger Scale (HHS). The HHS comprises three subset questions from the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) that pertain to insufficient food quantities . Scores of 0–1 are classified as “little to no household hunger,” 2–3 as “moderate household hunger” and 4–6 “severe household hunger” . Women with scores 2–6 are therefore classified as experiencing “moderate or severe household hunger.” For logistic regression analyses, the three classes were regrouped into two (none/mild and moderate/severe household food insecurity).
Determination of household economic status
A household wealth index based on household assets and housing quality was used as a proxy indicator for socioeconomic status (SES) of households. An absolute measure of household wealth (wealth index) used in this study is based on an earlier concept developed by Garenne and Hohmann , whereby the sum of dummy variables is created from information collected on housing quality (floor, walls and roof material), availability of potable water and type of toilet facility, and ownership of household durable goods and livestock (e.g., bicycle, television, radio, motorcycle, sewing machine, telephone, cars, refrigerator, mattress and bed). These facilities or durable goods are often regarded as modern goods that have been shown to reflect household wealth. A household of zero index score, for example, means that household had not a single modern good. The wealth variable categorized respondents into quintiles according to the household’s score on the demographic and health survey (DHS) wealth index, which is based on the household’s amenities, assets and living conditions .
Determination of body mass index
The nutritional status of adult non-pregnant and non-lactating women was assessed using BMI. Maternal weight was measured twice, to the nearest 0.1 kg, with a digital scale, while the subjects were wearing light clothing and no shoes. BMI as an indicator of the nutritional status of adults reflects chronic energy deficiency that was assessed by dividing an individual’s weight (kg) over height in metres squared (m2). Maternal nutritional status was classified according to BMI categories as underweight (<18.5), adequate (18.5–24.9), overweight (25–29.9) or obese (≥30) .
The analysis of data took into account the complex design of multistage cluster surveys. The data were coded for statistical analysis using SPSS Complex Samples module for windows 21.0 (SPSS Inc, Chicago). This was done in order to make statistically valid population inferences and computed standard errors from sample data. For continuous outcomes, statistical significance was assessed using analysis of variance (ANOVA). For categorical and dichotomous outcomes, Chi-square tests were performed to assess statistical significance. Multiple regression analysis was used to assess the independent contribution of food insecurity to maternal nutritional status. Independent variables considered for entry into the regression models were identified during bivariate correlations analysis. Multi-collinearity between independent variables was checked and eliminated.
The study was approved by the School of Allied Health Sciences, University for Development Studies, Ghana. Written approval was obtained from the local health authorities in the district. All participants were informed about the purpose of the study and their right to decline participation in the study, and verbal consent was obtained from all participants.
Socio-demographic characteristics of study sample
Characteristics of households stratified by household food insecurity status as measured by Household Hunger Scale (N = 422)
Household wealth index
χ 2 = 17.3, p < 0.001
Place of residence
χ 2 = 19.2, p < 0.001
Maternal education level
χ 2 = 24.4, p < 0.001
Source of potable water
χ 2 = 3.9, p = 0.001
Magnitude of household food insecurity and malnutrition
Prevalence of maternal malnutrition and household food insecurity (N = 422)
Moderate to severe household hunger
Determinants of maternal nutritional status
Determinants of mean BMI
95 % confidence interval for mean
Household Wealth Index
F(1, 421) = 16.0, p < 0.001
Household food security
F(1, 421) = 18.2, p < 0.001
Type of residence
F(1, 421) = 27.5, p < 0.001
F(2, 421) = 3.9, p = 0.02
Potable water sources
F(1, 420) = 3.7, p = 0.056
Occupation of mother
F(6, 421) = 2.8, p = 0.01
Under 20 years
F(2, 421) = 2.5, p = 0.09
At least 35 years
Household food consumption
Food consumption score stratified by household food insecurity status (N = 422)
95 % confidence interval for mean
Cereal consumption score
F(1, 421) = 0.22, p = 0.6
Roots and tubers consumption
F(1, 421) = 8.9, p = 0.003
Milk consumption score
F(1, 421) = 9.7, p = 0.002
Pulse consumption score
F(1, 421) = 6.4, p = 0.01
Vegetable consumption score
F(1, 421) = 6.0, p = 0.02
Meat and fish consumption
F(1, 421) = 5.6, p = 0.019
Sugar consumption score
F(1, 421) = 22.6, p < 0.001
Oil consumption score
F(1, 421) = 4.2, p = 0.04
Over all food consumption score
F(1, 421) = 25.3, p < 0.001
Relationship between household food insecurity and maternal nutritional status
Multiple regression analysis was conducted to test whether household food insecurity significantly predicts maternal BMI, controlling for potential confounding factors.
Independent variables considered for entry into the regression models included the variables that were significant during bivariate analysis (Table 3).
Determinants of mother’s body mass index (BMI)
95.0 % confidence interval for β
Household size (>4)
Residence type (rural)
In analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), while adjusting for household size, place of residence and household wealth index, the mean body mass index (BMI) for women from food-secure households was 1.4 kg/m2 significantly higher than the mean BMI for women from food-insecure households (25.7 ± 5.3 vs. 24.3 ± 4.0) (95 % CI 0.54–2.35), p = 0.002.
Predictors of household food insecurity
Bivariate analysis of the predictors of household food insecurity
Household food security status
Chi-square (χ 2 ) = 0.7, p = 0.4
Type of residence
χ2 = 19.2, p < 0.001**
Household wealth index
χ 2 = 17.3, p < 0.001**
χ 2 = 24.4, p < 0.001**
Incidence of diarrhea
χ 2 = 6.6, p = 0.01*
This study assessed the relationship between household food insecurity and maternal nutritional status within the Wenchi Municipality located in Ghana. This is one of the first studies to report a significant association between food insecurity and mother’s nutritional status in Ghana. The adjusted BMIs of the food-insecure women were significantly lower than those of the food-secure women.
Relationship between food insecurity and maternal BMI
The relation between food insecurity and maternal weight appears to be a complex one. Research on whether there is a relationship between food insecurity and obesity has produced mixed results [10, 19]. Poverty appears to be a strong underlying force that put people at greater risk of unhealthy food habits. Available evidence suggests that in developed economies, poor people are more likely to be fatter than rich people. In cross-sectional studies conducted in the developed countries including the USA, food-insecure women tend to have higher BMI than women who were food secure [6, 20–22], whereas other studies have found no relationship, or even a lower risk of obesity, with food insecurity [23–25]. In a randomly selected sample of 8169 women in California, obesity was more prevalent in food-insecure (31.0 %) than in food-secure women (16.2 %) and was more likely to occur in non-white women . This infers that the percentage of women overweight or obese in severely food-insecure households was greater than the proportion of women overweight or obese in moderately food-insecure households.
In contrast, in resource-poor countries, poor people in most situations are not fat but apparently usually leaner than rich people. In this study, evidence showed that food insecurity was independently associated with maternal BMI. Women from food-insecure households had lower mean BMI than women who were food secure.
Women’s BMI has been used in Africa as an indicator of food security . Studies that have been conducted in developing countries among adults have produced mixed results. In one study, poor maternal nutritional status was common and women in households experiencing moderate to severe household hunger had statistically significantly lower BMI . Household food insecurity was positively associated with obesity among rural women in Malaysia [12, 28], while in Trinidad and Tobago, household food insecurity was positively associated with underweight among adults .
A study conducted in Bogotá, Colombia, showed that food insecurity was associated with underweight but not overweight in adults and concluded that food insecurity does not necessarily predict overweight in countries undergoing the nutrition transition .
Another study that used the Radimer/Cornell Scale to measure food insecurity found no significant association between food insecurity and body mass index in rural Malaysia .
The evidence is that in low-income countries, obesity is associated with affluence but in high-income countries obesity is more often associated with lower socioeconomic status, which had been reported earlier .
Household wealth index (a proxy for socioeconomic status) was also associated with greater odds of overweight or obesity. These associations are consistent with what is commonly seen in developing countries where individuals of higher socioeconomic classes are at greater risk of overweight and obesity. One possible explanation for these relationships is that wealthy households in developing countries are more likely of purchasing foods especially those that are energy dense and less likely to exercise. On the other hand, poor families may have less access to such foods and may do more exercise through walking. In the developed countries, the opposite appears to occur, where the wealthy families are able to access more healthy diets including vegetables and less concentrated energy dense foods.
Household food insecurity was negatively associated with maternal BMI. Women in food-secure households were more likely than food-insecure households to consume milk, pulses, oily and sugar-based foods.
Policy implications of findings
The major finding is that even among less vulnerable women (i.e., non-pregnant and lactating), household food insecurity adversely affected their nutritional status and that poverty was key determinant of food access. Therefore, policy makers and programme managers should focus on interventions (e.g., cash transfer programmes) targeting women to protect their food consumption and livelihoods, thereby reducing their vulnerability to the adverse effects of household food insecurity. Food insecurity information systems should be central to successful implementation of interventions.
Limitations of the study
Our design was a cross-sectional study, and as with all such studies, causality cannot be inferred. In cross-sectional studies, one-point time measurement is not an appropriate method for judging the association between household food insecurity and nutritional status of the mother. This means multiple measurements in prospective studies would allow investigators to establish the true association.
analysis of covariance
analysis of variance
body mass index
Food and Agriculture Organization
household food insecurity
Household Food Insecurity Access Scale
Household Hunger Scale
probability proportionate to size
The author would like to gratefully acknowledge with gratitude the effort of the data collection teams; without their participation, the quality of the data presented in this report would not have been possible. The author very much appreciates the involvement of all the women and community leaders whose cooperation led to a successful data collection experience.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
No funding was received for this work.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
- FAO. The state of food insecurity in the world. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization; 2000.Google Scholar
- Anderson SA. Core indicators of nutritional status for difficult-to-sample populations. J Nutr. 1990;120:1559–600.Google Scholar
- FAO. The state of food insecurity in the world: addressing food insecurity in protracted crises. Rome: FAO; 2010.Google Scholar
- Olson CM. Nutrition and health outcomes associated with food insecurity and hunger. J Nutr. 1991;129:512S–24S.Google Scholar
- Adams EJ, Grummer-Strawn L, Chavez G. Food insecurity is associated with increased risk of obesity in California women. J Nutr. 2003;133:1070–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Townsend MS, Peerson J, Love B, Achterberg C, Murphy SP. Food insecurity is positively related to overweight in women. J Nutr. 2001;131:1738–45.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Frongillo EA, Olson CM, Rauschenbach BS, Kendall A. Nutritional consequences of food insecurity in a rural New York state county. In: Discussion Paper no 1120–97. Madison: Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin; 1997.
- Wilde PE, Peterman JN. Individual weight change is associated with household food security status. J Nutr. 2006;136:1395–400.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Ivers LC, Cullen KA. Food insecurity: special considerations for women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(suppl):1740S–4S.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
- Larson NI, Story MT. Food insecurity and weight status among US children and families: a review of the literature. Am J Prev Med. 2011;40(2):166–73.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Camila C. Household food insecurity and nutritional status of women of reproductive age and children under 5 years of age in five departments of the Western Highlands of Guatemala: an analysis of data from the National Maternal-Infant Health Survey 2008–09 of Guatemala. Washington: FHI 360/FANTA-2 Bridge; 2012.
- Shariff ZM, Khor GL. Obesity and household food insecurity: evidence from a sample of rural households in Malaysia. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59:1049–58.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Gulliford M, Mahabir D, Rocke B. Food insecurity, food choices, and body mass index in adults: nutrition transition in Trinidad and Tobago. Int J Epidemiol. 2003;32:508–16.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Barker D. The malnourished baby and infant. Brit Med Bull. 2001;60:69–88.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Deitchler M, Ballard T, Swindale A, Coates J. Introducing a simple measure of household hunger for cross-cultural use. Washington, DC: Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance II Project (FANTA-2) AED; 2011. p. 1–16.Google Scholar
- Bairagi R. Is income the only constraint on child nutrition in rural Bangladesh? Bull World Health Organ. 1980;59:767–72.Google Scholar
- Rustein SO, Johnson K: The DHS Wealth Index. In: DHS Comparative Reports No 6. Calverton: Micro International; 2004.
- WHO. Expert committee on physical status: the use and interpretation of anthropometry: report of a WHO Expert Committee. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1995.Google Scholar
- Institute of Medicine. Hunger and obesity: understanding a food insecurity Paradigm. In: Workshop Summary. Washington: Institute of Medicine; 2011.
- Ball K, Timperio AF, Crawford DA. Understanding environmental influences on nutrition and physical activity behaviors: where should we look and what should we count? Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2006;3:33.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
- Olson CM. Nutrition and health outcomes associated with food insecurity and hunger. J Nutr. 1999;129(suppl):521S–4S.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hanson KL, Sobal J, Frongillo EA. Gender and marital status clarify associations between food insecurity and body weight. J Nutr. 2007;137:1460–5.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Favin M, Griffiths M. Communications for behavioral change in nutrition projects. In: Nutrition Toolkit Module Number 9. Washington: The World Bank; 1999.
- Jones SJ, Frongillo EA. Food insecurity and subsequent weight gain in women. Public Health Nutrition. 2007;10(2):145–51.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Rose D, Bodor JN. Household food insecurity and overweight status in young school children: results from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Pediatrics. 2006;117(2):464–73.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
- Uauy R, Diaz E. Consequences of food energy excess and positive energy balance. Public Health Nutr. 2005;8:1077–99.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Young SL, Plenty AH, Luwedde FA, Natamba BK, Natureeba P, Achan J, Mwesigwa J, Ruel TD, Ades V, Osterbauer B, et al. Household food insecurity, maternal nutritional status, and infant feeding practices among HIV-infected Ugandan women receiving combination antiretroviral therapy. Matern Child Health J. 2014;18(9):2044–53.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
- Robert RC, Gittelsohn J, Creed-Kanashiro HM, Penny ME, Caulfield LE, Narro MR, Black RE. Process evaluation determines the pathway of success for a health center-delivered nutrition education intervention for infants in Trujillo, Peru. J Nutr. 2006;136(3):634–41.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Knippenberg R, Lawn JE, Darmstadt GL, et al. Systematic scaling up of neonatal care in countries. Lancet. 1964;2005(365):1087–98.Google Scholar
- Isanaka S, Mora-Plazas M, Lopez-Arana S, Baylin A, Villamor E. Food insecurity is highly prevalent and predicts underweight but not overweight in adults and school children from Bogota. Colombia J Nutr. 2007;137(12):2747–55.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- Ihab AN, Rohana AJ, Wan Manan WM, Wan Suriati WN, Zalilah MS, Mohamed Rusli A. Nutritional outcomes related to household food insecurity among Mothers in Rural Malaysia. J Health Popul Nutr. 2013;31(4):480–9.PubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
- Choi Y, El Arifeen S, Mannan I, Rahman SM, Bari S, et al. Can mothers recognize neonatal illness correctly? Comparison of maternal report and assessment by community health workers in rural Bangladesh. Tropical Med Int Health. 2010;15(6):743–53.View ArticleGoogle Scholar