“Link between Childhood Food Insecurity and Mental Health Disorders: A New Study by Canadian Medical Association Journal”

By | July 26, 2023



A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals a connection between food insecurity in childhood and higher rates of mental health disorders and substance use. The study found children from food-insecure homes in Ontario had a 55% higher prevalence of outpatient visits for these issues and a 74% higher prevalence of emergency department visits or hospitalization. The study analysed data from more than 32,000 Ontario children and adolescents, with approximately 16% identified as living in food-insecure households. The findings highlight the need for public policy interventions to support food-insecure families and improve mental health outcomes.
Len Gillis reported

Connection between Childhood Food Insecurity, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Revealed in Recent Study

A recent study has unveiled a significant correlation between food insecurity during childhood and a higher incidence of mental health and substance abuse problems. The research, which was published in the latest edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), focuses on children and adolescents from food-insecure households in Ontario.

Details of the Study

The research was conducted by Kelly K. Anderson, Kristin K. Clemens, Britney Le, Lixia Zhang, Jinette Comeau, Valerie Tarasuk and Salimah Z. Shariff, esteemed physicians and researchers affiliated with the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies (ICES).

The researchers highlighted that food insecurity is a critical public health issue linked to children and adolescents’ mental health. However, its association with the usage of mental health services was previously unclear. The focus of this study was to determine the connection between food insecurity and the utilization of health services for mental or substance use disorders in Ontario’s young population.

Key Findings of the Research

The study revealed that Ontario’s children and adolescents from food-insecure households had a 55% higher prevalence of outpatient visits and a 74% higher prevalence of past-year acute care visits. The latter includes emergency department visits or hospitalizations for a mental or substance use disorder. The research used data from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and other sources, tracking over 32,000 children and adolescents’ health, out of which around 16% were identified as coming from food-insecure households.

The data for household food insecurity was sourced from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), as stated by the CMAJ study. Children from food-insecure homes who displayed mental health disorders most commonly sought service contacts for neurodevelopmental disorders, mood or anxiety disorders, social problems, and other mental disorders.


Implications of the Study

Despite considering key confounding factors such as low household income, single-parent family, the number of children in the household, or maternal mental or substance use disorders, the prevalence of past-year health service contacts for mental or substance use disorders was significantly higher in food-insecure households. The study found that this prevalence increased with the severity of household food insecurity.

However, the researchers noted that these findings might not apply to individuals living in First Nations communities or remote areas where food insecurity is notably high. The study’s findings establish a distinct link between food insecurity and mental health disorders and substance use disorders. This research provides proof that effective public policy interventions can mitigate these connections.

The authors suggest that household food insecurity is a modifiable risk factor for mental and substance use disorders and that public policy interventions can effectively address it. They recommend exploring targeted efforts to support food-insecure families as a public mental health measure to enhance child and adolescent mental health and alleviate the pressure on the mental health system.

The complete text of the CMAJ study can be accessed online.