Household Food Insecurity and Mental Health Problems Among Adolescents: What Do Parents Report?


OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether adolescents living in households with food insecurity have poorer parent-reported mental health (MH) than peers. METHODS: We analyzed cross-sectional data from approximately 8600 adolescents who participated in the 2007 (8th grade) wave of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten. Household food insecurity (HFI) was assessed by parental report on the 18-item US Household Food Security Scale. Total Difficulties score >13 on the parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) indicated problems with adolescent MH. SDQ subscale scores (Emotional, Conduct, Hyperactivity, Peer Problems) were also calculated. Associations between HFI and MH were explored in bivariate and multivariable analyses. Interactions of HFI and gender and HFI and receipt of free/reduced-price school lunch were analyzed with regard to problems with MH. RESULTS: A total of 10.2% of adolescents lived with HFI; 11.2% had SDQ >13. Adolescents with HFI had higher rates of overall MH problems (28.7% vs 9.2%), emotional problems (21.6% vs 6.6%), conduct problems (26.5% vs 11.6%), hyperactivity (22.4% vs 11.3%), and peer problems (19.8% vs 8.6%) (all P < .01). After adjustment for confounders, the association between HFI and overall MH problems (odds ratio 2.3; 95% confidence interval 1.6-3.3) remained. Interactions of HFI and gender and HFI and free/reduced-price school lunch were not significant. CONCLUSIONS: HFI was associated with increased risk of parent-reported MH problems among both male and female adolescents. Free/reduced-price school lunch did not significantly alter this relationship. Effective interventions to promote MH and reduce HFI among adolescents are necessary.