BackgroundFood insecurity not only affects physical growth and health of children but also their intellectual development, school attendance and academic performance. However, most evidences are based on studies in high income countries. Although food insecurity is common in Ethiopia, to what extent it affects school attendance and educational attainment of adolescents is not explored. We hypothesized that food insecure adolescents would be more likely to be absent from school and have lower grades attained after 1 year compared to their food secure peers.MethodsWe used data from 2009 adolescents in the age group of 13-17 years from two consecutive surveys of a five year longitudinal family study in Southwest Ethiopia. A stratified random sampling was used to select participants. Regression analyses were used to compare school absenteeism and the highest grade attained after 1 year of follow-up in food secure and insecure adolescents. The analysis was adjusted for demographic factors, reported illness and workload.ResultsSignificantly more (33.0%) food insecure adolescents were absent from school compared with their food secure peers (17.8%, P < 0.001). Multivariable logistic regression analyses showed that after adjusting for gender, place of residence and gender of the household head, adolescent food insecurity [OR 1.77 (1.34-2.33)], severe household food insecurity [OR 1.62 (1.27-2.06)], illness during the past one month before the survey [OR 2.26 (1.68-3.06)], the highest grade aspired to be completed by the adolescent [OR 0.92 (0.88-0.96)], and the number of days that the adolescent had to work per week [OR 1.16 (1.07-1.26)] were independent predictors of school absenteeism. Similarly after controlling for household income and gender of the household head, adolescent food insecurity(P < 0.001), severe household food insecurity(P < 0.001), illness during the last month(P < 0.001) and rural residence(P < 0.001) were inversely associated with highest grade attained, while age of the adolescent(P < 0.001), the highest grade intended to be completed(P < 0.001) and residence in semi urban area(P < 0.001) were positively associated with the highest grade attained.ConclusionsAdolescent and household food insecurity are positively associated with school absenteeism and a lower educational attainment. Programs aiming to achieve universal access to primary education in food insecure environments should integrate interventions to ensure food security of adolescents.


  • Food insecurity affects physical growth and health of children and their intellectual development, school attendance and academic performance

  • Bivariate analyses showed that a significantly higher proportion (33.0%) of food insecure adolescents was identified as absentees compared with food secure youth (17.8%), P < 0.001

  • School absenteeism was positively associated with household food insecurity (P < 0.001) and number of hours per week that the adolescents had to work for the household (P < 0.001)

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Food insecurity affects physical growth and health of children and their intellectual development, school attendance and academic performance. Food insecurity adversely affects intellectual development [2,3,5,6,7], school attendance [8], growth [7], health [9] academic performance and social skills [2,5,7] of children and adolescents. Children who experience food insecurity might suffer from a significant amount of psychological and emotional stress at home around the concerns of the caregivers to provide adequate food This may affect the emotional well-being of the adolescent to an extent that interferes with cognitive [15,16,17] and behavioral performance [18]. Food-insufficient teenagers were reported to have behavioral problems that are incompatible with their school attendance [5]


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