Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2006


Published in Public Health Nutrition 9:1 (2006), pp. 47–52; DOI: 10.1079/PHN2005764. Published by Cambridge University Press. Copyright (c) 2006 Les B. Whitbeck, Xiaojin Chen, and Kurt D. Johnson. Used by permission.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate the prevalence of food insecurity and factors related to it among homeless and runaway adolescents.

Design: Computer-assisted personal interviews were conducted with homeless and runaway adolescents directly on the streets and in shelters.

Setting: Interviews were conducted in eight Midwest cities: Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Kansas City, Lincoln, Omaha, St. Louis and Wichita.

Subjects: The subjects were 428 (187 males; 241 females) homeless and runaway adolescents aged 16–19 years. Average age of the adolescents was 17.4 (standard deviation 1.05) years.

Results: About one-third of the adolescents had experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. Factors associated with food insecurity were age of adolescent, a history of caretaker neglect and abuse, having ever spent time directly on the street, a small post-runaway social network, and engaging in deviant and non-deviant street foodacquisition strategies.

Conclusions: Based on these findings, our conservative estimate is that nationally more than 165 000 homeless and runaway adolescents experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days. These adolescents are largely hidden from public notice and they are usually missed in studies that address national hunger.

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