Food Insecurity and Mental Health

August 8, 2018 | 4:49 pm | Written by

Food insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” For many families, this is a daily struggle. It’s not simply about being hungry — food insecurity actively limits a person’s physical AND mental health. When you’re hungry, your body produces cortisol, a stressor that signals to your body to eat. This stress, when prolonged, has deteriorative qualities, and the effects of food insecurity on a person’s psyche are more impactful than you might imagine. According to Science Daily, nearly one in three individuals experience a common mental disorder during their lifetimes, such as depression, anxiety, and somatic symptom disorders. It’s possible that food insecurity is tied to these disorders and an individual’s susceptibility to acquiring them.

A solid nutritional foundation, especially during a child’s early years, is absolutely vital. Pregnant women undergoing stress and chronic hunger are also a danger in the neonatal period. The first three years of a child’s growth is largely dependent on their food intake and care. Babies who receive adequate nutrition in the womb tend to show higher cognitive performance later in childhood. Neglect, malnourishment, and chronic undernutrition can inhibit brain cognition and lead to various developmental problems. Improved nutrition, increased environmental stimulation, emotional support, and secure attachment to parents/caregivers can compensate for early undernutrition.  Stressful decision making and financial constraints, however, put pressure on both the parents and their children.  It’s clear, then, that without proper nutrition, we are putting a generation of children at a disadvantage.

For teenagers, the stress created by food insecurity, in turn, can lead to a host of other issues. Hungry teens were found to be 7-12 times more likely to exhibit behavior like fighting, stealing, and disobeying teachers. It is also likely that many hungry children develop psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. Among 15 to 16-year-olds, food insufficiency was associated with depressive disorders and suicide symptoms after controlling for income and other factors. Adolescents growing up with these difficulties tend to focus less on their studies due to poor health and sleep. Even those who do make it to college often become food insecure adults who must limit their spending and survive by eating large amounts of ramen and similar cheap, processed foods.

Adult households are also at risk of food insecurity. According to Feeding America “More than 60 percent of older adult households served by Feeding America report having to make the tradeoff between food and medical care or prescriptions; 60 percent between food and utilities; 58 percent between food and transportation; and 49 percent between food and housing.” Food insecurity continues to take its toll on these individuals who may have been struggling with it their whole life.

In America, where 40% of all food produced is lost or wasted, there is no reason that anyone should go hungry. Move for Hunger has been advocating to reduce food waste and fight hunger since 2009. So far we have collected more than 11 million pounds of food and have provided 9+ million meals.

What can you do to help? Donate your food when you move OR hold a food drive These generous activities will help put meals on the plates of your neighbors in need.

Find more ways to Get Involved.

About Move For Hunger

More than 41 million Americans, including 1 in 6 children, struggle with food insecurity each day. Hunger exists in every state, county, and congressional district in the United States.

Move For Hunger has collected nearly 9 million pounds of food thanks, in large part, to ordinary people like you who recognized the urgency of the problem and decided to take action. We need your support to continue providing meals for our neighbors in need.

We have delivered more than


of food to food banks across United States & Canada.

These food donations account for more than


for people in need.