Food insecurity describes a person’s worry and fear about not having enough food or having access to nutritious and safe food. For children, food insecurity can be a big problem. Even in industrialized countries like Canada, many children do not have access to adequate food sources. This can cause them to experience physical problems such as illnesses. Also, children who have food insecurities may not be able to perform at their best in academic settings. Together, these deficiencies can lead to psychological problems in children as well.
To determine what type of impact food security has on the mental health of children, one must first control for other conditions that can affect psychological well-being, including parental depression, poverty, parental tobacco use, and overall family functioning and parenting. To accomplish this, Maria Melchior of the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France conducted an analysis of over 2,000 Canadian children.
Melchior first measured food insecurity when the children were 1 and 4. Later, at age 4, 5, 6, and 8, Melchior evaluated the mental health of the children. She found that psychological issues were high in the total sample. Specifically, over 20% of the children had anxiety or depression, over 25% had symptoms of aggression and 6% demonstrated symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). When she controlled for the other factors such as family poverty level, parental education, and tobacco use in the home, she found that there was a strong association between food insecurity and ADHD.
These results are the first of their kind to demonstrate a potential link between inadequate food supplies and childhood ADHD. For most children, the fear and worry that arise from not having enough food are very real. In an environment that may have other negative conditions, such as familial depression, neglect, or abuse, the stress from food insecurity can be magnified. Understanding the potential behavioral ramifications of food insecurity on children is just one step toward combatting the problem. Melchior added, “Addressing food insecurity and associated problems in families could help reduce the burden of mental health problems in children and reduce social inequalities in development.”
Melchior, M., Chastang, J-F., Falissard, B., Galéra, C., Tremblay, R.E., et al. (2012). Food Insecurity and Children’s Mental Health: A Prospective Birth Cohort Study. PLoS ONE 7(12): e52615. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052615
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