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Ochsner J. 2018 Winter;18(4):318-325. doi: 10.31486/toj.18.0037.

Parent and Child Reports of Food Insecurity and Mental Health: Divergent Perspectives.

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Department of Pediatrics, Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital, Baton Rouge, LA.
Department of Psychiatry, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge, LA.



Food insecurity-the inability to provide adequate food for at least one household member sometime during the year-is linked to negative physical and mental health outcomes. Child reports of experiences in other domains of life are only moderately related to parental proxy reports of the same experiences. The goal of our study was to assess the convergence of parent and child reports of food insecurity and several specific mental health symptoms.


Dyads of parents and children attending medical appointments were surveyed. Inclusion criteria consisted of English-speaking adults and their children between the ages of 8 and 17 years.


Sixty-two percent of adults and 50% of children self-reported meeting screening criteria for food insecurity, and adult-child dyad reports were significantly correlated. However, when asked about the child worrying about food running out or having eaten less than desired in order to conserve food, adult and child reports diverged significantly, with adults more frequently underestimating worry and conservation behaviors compared to child self-reports. Similar discrepancies were found for items probing specific symptoms of depression, general anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Our data show that adults may not accurately perceive the subjective effects of food insecurity on children in their household, particularly in households receiving food assistance, perhaps because of objectively greater need. Because food insecurity may have profound effects on child development, pediatricians should be aware of the mental health risks for children in food-insecure homes.


Behavioral symptoms; food supply; nutritional status; pediatrics

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