1. High risk of experiencing food insecurity during childhood was associated with lower household income, single parent household, and history of depression in parents.
2. High risk for childhood food insecurity was associated with more severe cannabis use, behavioral problem, and dropout potential in these children during adolescence.
Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)
Given the importance of proper nutrition in pediatric development, childhood food insecurity is an important public health issue to understand and combat. Several studies have demonstrated that food insecurity experienced during early childhood leads to academic difficulties and behavior problems several years later. However, whether household food insecurity experienced during childhood is associated with mental health outcomes during adolescences has not been well characterized.
This cohort study followed 1441 (52.2% female) infants in Quebec, Canada, starting from age 5 months until 15 years. Children were classified into either experiencing low-risk food insecurity (96.4%) or high-risk food insecurity (3.6%) based on surveys of mothers performed when children were aged 1.5, 4, 8, 10, 12, and 13. A value of “1” was given if any family member experienced hunger due to lack of food or money to buy food in the past 12 months. Subsequently, mental health and functioning outcomes were surveyed in these adolescents at 15 years of age.
Results demonstrated that even after adjusting for other factors that could modulate childhood development (such as household income, single parent household, and the presence of mental illness in parent), high risk for food insecurity was significantly associated with worse cannabis use, peer bullying, and school dropout potential. Limitations of this paper include a very low number of participants in high-risk food insecurity group (73), which is likely due to a high number of children being lost to follow-up (679) who were predominantly in single-parent households with lower socioeconomic status. Furthermore, this study only examined food insecurity in a binary fashion and did not assess quality or diversity of nutrition. Nonetheless, this study provides supporting evidence for additional prospective studies aimed at evaluating the efficacy of intervention programs targeting childhood food insecurity in modulating mental health outcomes during adolescence.
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