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J Nutr. 2002 Apr;132(4):719-25.

Family food insufficiency, but not low family income, is positively associated with dysthymia and suicide symptoms in adolescents.

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  • 1Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.


Food insufficiency has been shown to be associated with poor health, academic and psychosocial outcomes in American children, but the relationship between food insufficiency and depressive disorders in U.S. adolescents has not been studied. Further, there are no national estimates of the prevalence of depressive disorders for U.S. adolescents, nor investigation of associations with sociodemographic characteristics using national data. Therefore, we analyzed data for 15- and 16-y-old adolescents from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Depressive disorders and suicidal symptoms were assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Adolescents were classified as "food insufficient" if a family respondent reported that the family sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. The prevalence of depression outcomes is reported by sociodemographic characteristics. Odds ratios for associations with food insufficiency are reported, adjusted for sociodemographic factors. Overall, lifetime prevalence of major depressive disorder was 6.3% and of dysthymia, 5.4%. Almost 5% of 15- to 16-y-old adolescents reported that they had ever attempted suicide and 38.8% reported at least one suicidal symptom. Female adolescents were significantly more likely than males to have had dysthymia, any depressive disorder and all symptoms of suicide. Low income adolescents were less likely to report suicide ideation than high income adolescents, but there were no other differences by family income. Food-insufficient adolescents were significantly more likely to have had dysthymia, thoughts of death, a desire to die and have attempted suicide. There is a strong association between food insufficiency and depressive disorder and suicidal symptoms in U.S. adolescents.

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