Association of Food Insecurity with Mental Health Outcomes in Parents and Children

Acad Pediatr. 2022 Sep-Oct;22(7):1105-1114. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2022.04.010. Epub 2022 May 13.


Background: Food insecurity affects 13.7 million US households and is linked to poor mental health. Families shield children from food insecurity by sacrificing their nutritional needs, suggesting parents and children experience food insecurity differentially.

Objective: To identify the associations of food insecurity and mental health outcomes in parents and children DATA SOURCES: PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and PsycInfo STUDY ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: We included original research published in English from January 1990 to June 2020 that examined associations between food insecurity and mental health in children or parents/guardians in the United States.

Study appraisal and synthesis methods: Two reviewers screened studies for inclusion. Data extraction was completed by one reviewer and checked by a second. Bias and confounding were assessed using the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality RTI Item Bank. Studies were synthesized qualitatively, grouped by mental health outcome, and patterns were assessed. Meta-analyses were not performed due to high variability between studies.

Results: We included 108 studies, assessing 250,553 parents and 203,822 children in total. Most studies showed a significant association between food insecurity and parental depression, anxiety, and stress, and between food insecurity and child depression, externalizing/internalizing behaviors, and hyperactivity.

Limitations: Most studies were cross-sectional and many were medium- or high-risk for bias or confounding.

Conclusions and implications of key findings: Food insecurity is significantly associated with various mental health outcomes in both parents and children. The rising prevalence of food insecurity and mental health problems make it imperative that effective public health and policy interventions address both problems.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; food insecurity; mental health; parents.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Food Insecurity
  • Food Supply*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Parents*
  • United States / epidemiology