Abstract: Indirect Effects of Food Insecurity on Psychosocial Well-Being Among School-Aged Children: Evidence From ECLS-K (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

31P Indirect Effects of Food Insecurity on Psychosocial Well-Being Among School-Aged Children: Evidence From ECLS-K

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Jeong Hee Ryu, MSW , University of Wisconsin-Madison, Doctoral Student (Project assistant), Madison, WI
Judi Bartfeld, PhD , University of Wisconsin-Madison, Associate Professor, Madison, WI
Background and Purpose:

This study examines the indirect effects of food insecurity on psychosocial well-being through maternal depression among school-aged children. Although hunger is not a widely experienced problem in developed societies, food insecurity is still a prominent social problem and an important public policy concern. Nearly 11.1 percent of U.S. households did not have assured access to enough food to meet their basic needs in 2007. In particular, the prevalence rates of food insecurity were substantially higher for households with children (15.8 percent).

A growing body of research has examined the relationship between food insecurity and child development, and evidence suggests that food insecurity is directly associated with detrimental psychosocial outcomes. By contrast, little is known about the indirect effects of food insecurity on children's development. Although the mediating role of parental mental health and parenting behaviors is critical for further understanding of the potential indirect pathways by which food insecurity affects children's psychosocial well-being, evidence is inconclusive. This paper examines indirect pathways linking food insecurity to child psychosocial functioning, focusing on the mediating effect of maternal depression.


This study uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). Parent and teacher data from spring of 3rd grade are analyzed. 10,454 of children are selected for the analyses. Children's psychosocial functioning is assessed by teacher-rated social skills including child behavior problems, interpersonal relationship, and self-control. Food insecurity is measured by the USDA food security scale. Maternal depression is assessed by an abbreviated version of the Center for Epidemiological Studies of Depression Scale (CES-D). A rich set of covariates, including economic resources, household characteristics, child and parental characteristics, food assistance program participation, and child care characteristics, are controlled. An ordinary least squares (OLS) regression model is utilized for the study.


Food insecurity is significantly correlated with both child psychosocial functioning and maternal depression. Regression results show that after controlling for maternal depression, the coefficient on food insecurity decreases modestly in magnitude. The finding suggests that maternal depression explains only a portion of the association between food insecurity and child psychosocial functioning.


The finding provides evidence that maternal depression may play a mediating role between food insecurity and psychosocial well-being in children. At the same time, the result suggests that the indirect pathway from food insecurity, through maternal depression, to child outcomes is not likely the sole mechanism. Further research on a variety of direct and indirect pathways by which food insecurity may influence child health and development is warranted. Finally, the finding suggests that food insecurity is a risk factor for psychosocial and behavioral problems, and implies that policy intervention for reducing food security in low-income households may benefit children's psychosocial development and well-being.