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Associations of household food insufficiency with childhood depression and anxiety: a nationwide cross-sectional study in the USA

Household food insufficiency (HFIS) is a major public health threat to children. Children may be particularly vulnerable to HFIS as a psychological stressor due to their rapid growth and accelerated behavioural and cognitive states, whereas data focusing on HFIS and childhood mental disorders are as-yet sparse. We aimed to examine the associations of HFIS with depression and anxiety in US children. Cross-sectional study. The 2016-2018 National Survey of Children’s Health, a nationally-representative study. Primary caregivers of 102 341 children in the USA. Physician diagnosed depression and anxiety were assessed by questionnaires administered to primary caregivers of 102 341 children. Multivariable logistic regression models estimated adjusted OR (aOR) for current depression or anxiety associated with HFIS measured through a validated single-item instrument. Among children aged 3-17 years, 3.2% and 7.4% had parent-reported physician-diagnosed current depression and anxiety, respectively. Compared with children without HFIS, children with HFIS had approximately twofold higher weighted prevalence of anxiety or depression. After adjusting for covariates, children with versus without HFIS had a 1.53-fold (95% CI 1.15 to 2.03) and 1.48-fold (95% CI 1.20 to 1.82) increased odds of current depression and anxiety, respectively. Associations were slightly more pronounced among girls (aOR (95% CI): depression 1.69 (1.16 to 2.48); anxiety 1.78 (1.33 to 2.38)) than boys (1.42 (0.98 to 2.08); 1.32 (1.00 to 1.73); both P-for-interaction <0.01). The associations did not vary by children's age or race/ethnicity. HFIS was independently associated with depression and anxiety among US children. Girls presented slightly greater vulnerability to HFIS in terms of impaired mental health. Children identified as food-insufficient may warrant mental health assessment and possible intervention. Assessment of HFIS among children with impaired mental health is also warranted. Our findings also highlight the importance of promptly addressing HFIS with referral to appropriate resources and inform its potential to alleviate childhood mental health issues.

Authors: Zheng, Siwen; Ngo, Amanda L; Forman, Michele R; Barcellos, Anna L; Liao, Lauren; Ferrara, Assiamira; Zhu, Yeyi

BMJ Open. 2021 09 07;11(9):e054263. Epub 2021-09-07.

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