Abstract: Effects of Dimensions of Material Hardship and Parenting Stress on Early Childhood Food Consumption (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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335P Effects of Dimensions of Material Hardship and Parenting Stress on Early Childhood Food Consumption

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Brittany Schuler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Rachel Wildfeuer, MA, Doctoral Candidate, Temple University, PA
Jennifer Fisher, Professor, Temple University, PA
Elaine Borawski, PhD, Professor, Case Western Reserve University, OH
Alison Miller, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Brad Collins, PhD, Professor, Temple University, PA
Background: Low-resourced families disproportionately experience material hardships, regardless of poverty level, that may increase stress around parenting. Parenting stress is a known contributor to poor child diet quality. Diets high in saturated fats and added sugars (SFAS) and low in fruits and vegetables (FV) place children at increased risk for a number of health complications. However, links between how different dimensions of material hardship may influence parenting stress and child diet quality are largely unknown. Given the socioeconomic disparities in nutrition, research is needed to understand whether and how dimensions of material hardship may link to poorer quality diet. The present study fills this gap in the literature by examining 1) how basic needs and housing hardships in early childhood associate with key parts of healthful eating patterns, and 2) whether each type of material hardship may associate with higher parenting stress, to then associate with child SFAS/FV consumption.

Methods: Data were collected from mothers/children (n=4,898) in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study when children were 5-years-old. Poverty level was determined using federal poverty thresholds. Items were derived from the Survey on Income and Program Participation and US Household Food Security Survey Module to determine the presence or absence of nine material hardship indicators in the past 12 months. Basic needs hardships included: 1) received free food/meals, 2) unable to pay full rent/mortgage, 3) could not pay full gas/oil/electric bill, 4) borrowed money from family/friends to pay bills, 5) could not afford needed medical care, and 6) food insecurity. Housing hardships included: 1) evicted for not paying rent/mortgage, 2) moved in with others because of financial problems, and 3) stayed in a place not meant for regular housing. Mothers self-reported parenting stress (Parenting Stress Inventory) and frequency of child consumption of SFAS (sweets, chips, soda) and FV. Structural equation modeling was used to test direct effects of poverty level, basic needs hardships, and housing hardships on SFAS/FV and parenting stress as a mediator of the association. Models were adjusted for control covariates (poverty ratio, child sex, weight status, race/ethnicity, and maternal age, education level).

Results. Frequency of SFAS food consumption was higher among children with lower incomes (B=-0.03, p=.02) and those experiencing housing hardships (B=0.11, p=.03). Parenting stress mediated effects of basic needs (β=.03, CI=0.01, 0.04) and housing hardships (β=.03, CI=0.01, 0.06) on frequency of consumption of high SFAS foods, after accounting for poverty level. Basic needs hardships indirectly associated with less frequent FV consumption through higher parenting stress (β=-.01, CI=-0.02, -0.002). Parenting stress did not mediate the association between poverty level and SFAS/FV consumption.

Conclusion. Findings suggest material hardships may exacerbate parenting stress, which then may have a negative influence on frequency of child SFAS and FV consumption. Future research should examine which factors buffer effects of hardship on parenting stress and child diet quality and should explore how social service agencies might expand service provisions or partner with food donors to ensure that families experiencing material hardships have access to food that meets basic nutritional standards.