Food Insecurity Predicts Mental Health Problems in Adolescents

Reports new study in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Washington D.C., December 17, 2012 – A study published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that adolescents who experienced food insecurity in the past year have a higher prevalence of mental disorders than adolescents whose families have reliable access to food.

Using data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a group of researchers led by Dr. Katie McLaughlin, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, examined 6,483 adolescents aged 13-17 years to examine the relationship between food insecurity and past-year mental disorders. Food insecurity was defined as the inability to purchase adequate amounts of food to meet basic needs. The study examined whether food insecurity, as reported by adolescents and a parent or guardian, was associated with the presence of past-year mental disorders in adolescents over and above the effects of other indicators of socio-economic status including parental education, income, and poverty status.

The study found that a one standard deviation increase in food insecurity was associated with a 14% increased odds of past-year mental disorder among adolescents, even after controlling for poverty and numerous other indicators of socio-economic status. Food insecurity was associated with elevated odds of every class of common mental disorder examined in the study, including mood, anxiety, behavioral, and substance disorders. Food insecurity was associated with adolescent mental disorders more strongly than parental education and income.

The findings suggest that the lack of access to reliable and sufficient amounts of food is associated with increased risk for adolescent mental disorders over and above the effects of poverty. These findings are concerning because recent estimates have suggested that more than 20% of U.S. families with children experience at least some degree of food insecurity. Given the dramatic increases in child poverty in the past decade, these findings argue for expanding programs aimed at alleviating hunger in children and adolescents.

Dr. McLaughlin said of the study, “The fact that food insecurity was so strongly associated with adolescent mental disorders even after we accounted for the effects of poverty and other aspects of socio-economic status suggests that lack of access to reliable and sufficient amounts of food has implications not only for children’s physical health, but also their mental health. This underscores the importance of increasing the reach and uptake of programs designed to assist families struggling to provide adequate food for their children.”

The article “Food Insecurity and Mental Disorders in a National Sample of U.S. Adolescents” by Katie A. McLaughlin, Jennifer Greif Green, Ph.D., Margarita Alegría, E. Jane Costello, Michael J. Gruber, Nancy A. Sampson, Ronald C. Kessler, (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2012.09.009) appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 51, Issue 12 (December 2012), published by Elsevier.

# # #

Notes for editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Mary Billingsley at +1 202 966 7300 x105 or mbillingsley@jaacap.org. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Katie McLaughlin at Katie.McLaughlin@childrens.harvard.edu or +1 857 218 5598.

All articles published in JAACAP are embargoed until 3PM ET of the day they are published as corrected proofs online. Articles cannot be publicized as accepted abstracts. Contents of the publication should not be released to or by the media or government agencies before this date.

About the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A)
The National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH; U01-MH60220 and R01-MH66627) with supplemental support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF; grant 044780), and the John W. Alden Trust. Additional support for the preparation of this article was provided by NIMH grants K01-MH092526 (K.A.M.) and K01-MH085710 (J.G.G.). The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed to represent the views of any of the sponsoring organizations, agencies, or the U.S. government. A complete list of NCS-A publications can be found at http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs. Send correspondence to hncs@hcp.med.harvard.edu. The NCS-A is carried out in conjunction with the World Health Organization World Mental Health (WMH) Survey Initiative. The WMH Data Coordination Centers have received support from the NIMH (R01-MH070884, R13-MH066849, R01-MH069864, R01- MH077883), NIDA (R01-DA016558), the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health (FIRCAR03-TW006481), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Pfizer Foundation, and the Pan American Health Organization. The WMH Data Coordination Centers have also received unrestricted educational grants from AstraZeneca, Bristol-MyersSquibb, Eli Lilly and Co., GlaxoSmithKline, Ortho-McNeil, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, and Wyeth. A complete list of WMH publications can be found at http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/wmh/.

About JAACAP
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) is the official publication of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. JAACAP is the leading journal focusing exclusively on today's psychiatric research and treatment of the child and adolescent. Published twelve times per year, each issue is committed to its mission of advancing the science of pediatric mental health and promoting the care of youth and their families.

The journal's purpose is to advance research, clinical practice, and theory in child and adolescent psychiatry. It is interested in manuscripts from diverse viewpoints, including genetic, epidemiological, neurobiological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, social, cultural, and economic. Studies of diagnostic reliability and validity, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment efficacy, and mental health services effectiveness are encouraged. The journal also seeks to promote the well-being of children and families by publishing scholarly papers on such subjects as health policy, legislation, advocacy, culture and society, and service provision as they pertain to the mental health of children and families.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence, and ClinicalKey — and publishes nearly 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world leading provider of professional information solutions in the Science, Medical, Legal and Risk and Business sectors, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Media contact
Mary Billingsley
JAACAP Editorial Office
+1 202 966 7300 x105
mbillingsley@jaacap.org