Persistent Food Insecurity Is Associated with Adverse Mental Health among Women Living with or at Risk of HIV in the United States

J Nutr. 2019 Feb 1;149(2):240-248. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy203.


Background: Food insecurity and mental health negatively affect the lives of women in the United States. Participants in the Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) provided the opportunity to understand the association of food insecurity with depression and mental well-being over time.

Objective: We investigated the association between current and persistent food insecurity and depression among women at risk of or living with HIV in the United States.

Methods: We used longitudinal data from the WIHS, a prospective cohort study in women at risk of or living with HIV from multiple sites in the United States. Participants completed 6 semiannual assessments from 2013 to 2016 on food security (FS; high, marginal, low, and very low) and mental health (i.e., depressive symptoms and mental well-being). We used multiple regression analysis to estimate the association between these variables.

Results: Among 2551 participants, 44% were food insecure and 35% reported depressive symptoms indicative of probable depression. Current marginal, low, and very low FS were associated with 2.1-, 3.5-, and 5.5-point (all P < 0.001) higher depression scores, respectively. In models adjusting for both current and previous FS, previous marginal, low, and very low FS were associated with 0.2-, 0.93-, and 1.52-point higher scores, respectively (all P < 0.001). Women with very low FS at both time points (persistent food insecurity) had a 6.86-point higher depression score (P < 0.001). In the mental health models, there was a dose-response relation between current FS and worse mental health even when controlling for previous FS (all P < 0.001). Previous low FS was associated with worse mental health. These associations did not differ by HIV status.

Conclusions: Food insecurity placed women at risk of depression and poor mental well-being, but the risk was substantially higher for women experiencing persistent food insecurity. Future interventions to improve women's mental health call for multilevel components that include addressing food insecurity.

Keywords: HIV; United States; food insecurity; mental health; women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / complications*
  • Female
  • Food Supply*
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Women's Health