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Food-insecure kids had increased mental health risk: Study

A study found that children who lived in households where food was scarce had a higher risk for mental health issues. The researchers point out that the data is about a decade old, and that there has been an upsurge in food insecurity in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NEW DELHI: A study found that children and adolescents who lived in households where there was a lack of access to enough food supplies had a frequency of visits to the doctor for mental health issues that was 55% greater than those who lived in households where there was adequate access to food supplies.

The study, which was conducted on 32,321 children and adolescents and recently published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, analysed data taken from a population health survey that was part of the Canadian Community Health Survey.

The researchers classified the households’ access to food as either being food-secure, mildly food-insecure, substantially food-insecure, or severely food-insecure using the help of a validated assessment method.

There were a total of 5,216 homes that were considered to be food insecure, 1,952 households that were considered to be food insecure to a lesser degree (6%), 2,348 households that were considered to be food insecure to a greater degree (7.3%), and 916 families that were considered to be food insecure to a greater degree (2.8%).

In addition, the researchers discovered that children and adolescents living in households where food was scarce had a prevalence of acute care visits in the previous year that was 74% higher than average. An acute care visit is defined as a visit to an emergency room or hospitalisation for a mental or drug use issue.

Following social issues and other mental health concerns as the most common reasons for consultations were neurodevelopmental disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and then other mental health concerns.

According to Kelly Anderson, an associate professor at Western University in Canada, “the coexistence of household food insecurity and service use for mental and substance use disorders here is problematic, given that both of these conditions have been found to have negative consequences for social, educational, and developmental outcomes among children and adolescents.”

According to Salimah Shariff, a staff scientist at Western University and the principal author of the aforementioned study, “Taken together, these findings are concerning, and we need strong public policy to support families who face food insecurity.”

The researchers point out that the data is about a decade old, and that there has been an upsurge in food insecurity in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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