Food insufficiency and women's mental health: findings from a 3-year panel of welfare recipients

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Nov;61(9):1971-82. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.04.014.


Household food insufficiency is a significant problem in the United States, and has been associated with poor outcomes on mental health indicators among low-income women. However, it is difficult to disentangle the mental health consequences of household food insufficiency from poverty and other shared risk factors. Drawing on theories of the social production of health and disease, research evidence linking food insufficiency with poor mental health, and high rates of food insufficiency among welfare recipients, we examined whether a change in household food insufficiency is associated with a change in women's self-reported mental health in a sample of current and recent welfare recipients over a 3-year period of time, controlling for common risk factors. Data were obtained from a prospective survey of women who were welfare recipients in an urban Michigan county in February 1997 (n=753). We estimated fixed effect models for changes in mental health status that make use of information on household food insufficiency gathered in the fall of 1997, 1998, and 1999. The relationship between household food insufficiency and respondents' meeting the diagnostic screening criteria for major depression remained highly significant even when controlling for factors known to confer increased risk of depression and time invariant unobserved heterogeneity. These findings add to growing evidence that household food insufficiency has potentially serious consequences for low-income women's mental health. If confirmed by further research, they suggest that the public health burden of depression in welfare recipients and other low-income women could be reduced by policy-level interventions to reduce their exposure to household food insufficiency.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / economics
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Domestic Violence / economics
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Food Supply / economics
  • Food Supply / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Malnutrition / economics
  • Malnutrition / psychology*
  • Michigan / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Public Assistance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / economics
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Women's Health*