Research has found that experiencing food insecurity can have a detrimental impact on one’s health and well-being. It has also been found that minority groups are more likely to report experiencing food insecurity. Limited research has been conducted looking into food insecurity and mental health among veterans. This study aimed to examine rates of reported food insecurity across demographic and mental health characteristics in U.S. veterans in the Chicagoland area.
Utilizing a cross sectional study design, a survey was distributed to veterans living in the Chicagoland Area (N= 1,013). The survey gathered information on demographic characteristics, physical health and food insecurity. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder was measured using the PCL-5 and Depression was measured using the PHQ-9. Participants were asked to indicated whether they have received a series of mental health diagnosis. Participants were asked two questions related to experience of food insecurity within the past 12 months. Participants who endorsed either question with a response of a.) Often true or b) sometimes true, were identified as having experienced food insecurity.
Within in the sample, 30.7% of veterans reported experiencing food insecurity within the past 12 months. Female service members were over 2 times more likely to report experiencing food insecurity than male service members (OR= 2.95, p < 0.001). When comparing food insecurity across race/ethnicity, 66.9% of those who identified as black/African American reported food insecurity. Those that reported a mental health diagnosis also reported higher rates of food insecurity. Veterans meeting the diagnostic cutoff for PTSD or Depression were six times (PTSD; OR=5.87, p <0.001 Depression OR=6.04, p <0.001) more likely to report food insecurity. The largest increase in odds for food insecurity was seen in those with a diagnosis of Mild Traumatic Brain injury (OR=8.39, p <0.001), bipolar disorder (OR=12.98, p <0.001), and those with schizophrenia disorder (OR=15.10, p <0.001),who were 8, 13, and 15 times more likely, respectively, to report food insecurity.
Findings suggest that a significant number of veterans experience food insecurity, as almost a third of the sample indicated they have experienced food insecurity in the last year. Findings also suggest that certain demographic veteran groups experience higher rates of food insecurity than others do. Veterans with mental health issues were more likely to report being food insecure. While the relationship between mental health and food insecurity has been established in the literature, findings indicate that veterans as a group may be vulnerable to food insecurity, with mental health challenges creating increased susceptibility. The co-occurrence of mental health problems and food insecurity suggests that additional research is needed to examine the relationship between mental health, food insecurity and health outcomes among the veteran population.