Food insufficiency is associated with psychiatric morbidity in a nationally representative study of mental illness among food insecure Canadians

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2013 May;48(5):795-803. doi: 10.1007/s00127-012-0597-3. Epub 2012 Oct 11.


Purpose: Studies suggest that people who are food insecure are more likely to experience mental illness. However, little is known about which aspects of food insecurity place individuals most at risk of mental illness. The purpose of this study was to establish the prevalence of mental illness among food insecure Canadians, and examine whether mental illness differs between those who are consuming insufficient amounts of food versus poor quality foods.

Methods: This analysis utilized the publically available dataset from the Canadian Community Health Survey cycle 4.1. Bivariable and multivariable logistic regression were used to examine the associations between food insecurity and mental health disorder diagnosis, while adjusting for potential confounders. Stratified analyses were used to identify vulnerable sub-groups.

Results: Among 5,588 Canadian adults (18-64 years) reporting food insecurity, 58 % reported poor food quality and 42 % reported food insufficiency. The prevalence of mental health diagnosis was 24 % among participants with poor food quality, and 35 % among individuals who were food insufficient (hunger). After adjusting for confounders, adults experiencing food insufficiency had 1.69 adjusted-odds [95 % confidence interval (CI): 1.49-1.91] of having a mental health diagnosis. Stratified analyses revealed increased odds among women (a-OR 1.89, 95 % CI 1.62-2.20), single parent households (a-OR 2.05, 95 % CI 1.51-2.78), and non-immigrants (a-OR 1.88, 95 % CI 1.64-2.16).

Conclusion: The prevalence of mental illness is alarmingly high in this population-based sample of food insecure Canadians. These findings suggest that government and community-based programming aimed at strengthening food security should integrate supports for mental illness in this population.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Female
  • Food Supply / standards*
  • Food Supply / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult