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Carmichael, Suzan L.; Yang, Wei; Herring, Amy H.; Abrams, Barbara F.; & Shaw, Gary M. (2007). Maternal Food Insecurity Is Associated with Increased Risk of Certain Birth Defects. Journal of Nutrition, 137(9), 2087-2092. PMCID: PMC2063452


Food insecurity represents a lack of access to enough food to meet basic needs. We hypothesized that food insecurity may increase birth defect risks, because it is an indicator of increased stress or compromised nutrition, which are both implicated in birth defect etiologies. This study used population-based case-control data. Included in the analysis were 1,189 case mothers and 695 control mothers who were interviewed by telephone. We calculated a food insecurity score as the number of affirmative responses to 5 questions from a shortened instrument designed to measure food insecurity. OR for the food insecurity score specified as a linear term indicated that a higher score was associated with increased risk of cleft palate, d-transposition of the great arteries, tetralogy of Fallot, spina bifida, and anencephaly, but not with cleft lip with or without cleft palate, after adjustment for maternal race-ethnicity, education, BMI, intake of folic acid-containing supplements, dietary intake of folate and energy, neighborhood crime, and stressful life events. In addition, several models suggested effect modification by certain factors. For example, for anencephaly, among women with the worst score for neighborhood crime (i.e. 6), the OR associated with a 1-unit change in the food insecurity score was 1.57 (95% CI 1.06, 2.33), whereas among women with a low crime score (i.e. 2), the corresponding OR was 1.16 (95% CI 0.96, 1.38). This study suggests that increased risks of certain birth defects may be included among the negative consequences of food insecurity.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Nutrition


Carmichael, Suzan L.
Yang, Wei
Herring, Amy H.
Abrams, Barbara F.
Shaw, Gary M.