Objective: To examine whether food insecurity is associated with past-year DSM-IV mental disorders after controlling for standard indicators of family socioeconomic status (SES) in a U.S. national sample of adolescents.
Method: Data were drawn from 6,483 adolescent-parent pairs who participated in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement, a national survey of adolescents 13 to 17 years old. Frequency and severity of food insecurity were assessed with questions based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Security Scale (standardized to a mean of 0, variance of 1). DSM-IV mental disorders were assessed with the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Associations of food insecurity with DSM-IV/Composite International Diagnostic Interview diagnoses were estimated with logistic regression models controlling for family SES (parental education, household income, relative deprivation, community-level inequality, and subjective social status).
Results: Food insecurity was highest in adolescents with the lowest SES. Controlling simultaneously for other aspects of SES, standardized food insecurity was associated with an increased odds of past-year mood, anxiety, behavior, and substance disorders. A 1 standard deviation increase in food insecurity was associated with a 14% increase in the odds of past-year mental disorder, even after controlling for extreme poverty. The association between food insecurity and mood disorders was strongest in adolescents living in families with a low household income and high relative deprivation.
Conclusions: Food insecurity is associated with a wide range of adolescent mental disorders independently of other aspects of SES. Expansion of social programs aimed at decreasing family economic strain might be one useful policy approach for improving youth mental health.
Copyright © 2012 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.