Food Insecurity as a Continuum: Investigating the Emotional Well-Being of Parents

Food Insecurity as a Continuum: Investigating the Emotional Well-Being of Parents poster

Audio Presentation:

Audio Transcript


Research Authorship:

Monique Villamor, Dr. Jody Nicholson-Bell, and Dr. Lauri Wright

Faculty Mentor:

Dr. Jody Nicholson-Bell | College of Arts and Sciences | Department of Psychology
Dr. Lauri Wright | Brooks College of Health | Department of Nutrition and Dietetics


Household food insecurity is one of the United States’ leading public health concerns that affects millions of families every year. Current literature has mainly focused on the impact of food insecurity on multidimensional outcomes of children (Jyoti et al., 2005; Shankar et al., 2017). However, there is limited research on parents’ experiences and the distinct levels of food insecurity outlined by the USDA. The present study investigates parents’ emotional well-being in association with levels of food insecurity and participation in food assistance programs. It is hypothesized that increased severity of food insecurity will be associated with poorer emotional well-being in parents, whereas participation in food assistance programs will be associated with improved emotional well-being. The current study will analyze two existing datasets consisting of Head Start parents and a sub-sample of parents within a population of food pantry recipients. Emotional well-being will be assessed via the Perceived Stress Scale, WHO-5 Well-Being Scale, and GAD-7 Scale. Based on the USDA’s Household Food Security Survey, participants will be categorized into one of the following groups: High Food Security, Marginal Food Security, Low Food Security, and Very Low Food Security. The current study is preliminary work towards a Masters Thesis with planned analysis in order to provide comprehensive results. For future research, identifying food insecurity as a continuum with different levels of severity, rather than a single overall label, as well as participation in food assistance programs may serve as a useful moderator in understanding variations in parent and child outcomes.

Good afternoon my name is Monique Villamor, and today I’ll be presenting preliminary work towards my Master’s Thesis titled Food Insecurity as a Continuum: Investigating the Emotional Well-Being of Parents.

So a little bit of background on food insecurity:

Past research consistently reports that households with children are at a greater risk of facing food insecurity compared to households without children. As you can see on my poster, in 2018 there was a rate of 13.9% of households with children reporting food insecurity which is actually the lowest rate since 1998. However, this is still higher than the national average of 11.1%

For these families growing up or raising children in a food-insecure home, it can be a source of family stress, especially for the parents. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from and not knowing if you can provide adequate food for your kids can trigger extreme stress This extreme parental stress can lead to depressive symptoms, major depressive disorders, and generalized anxiety disorders.

Studies have reported food-insecure parents engage in more frequent and harsher discipline strategies with their children and practice less responsive parenting, which may be a reflection of their poor mental health state. These poor mental health and behavior outcomes of parents greatly impact children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and their behaviors.

Targetting parents’ mental health is important because it has been known to be a mediating variable between food insecurity and developmental outcomes in both children and adults.

In all these past studies, researchers have referred to food insecurity as a simple singular label. When in reality, food insecurity is a continuum ranging from Food Security, having no problems or anxiety accessing food, all the way to Very Low Food Security where individuals experience disruptions in eating patterns and reduced food intake.

The current study will address the gap in the literature by recognizing the different levels of food insecurity in relation to parents’ emotional well-being.

We hypothesize that increased severity of food insecurity will be associated with poorer emotional well-being. We will also investigate the role of food assistance programs like SNAP and WIC. We hypothesize that participation in food assistance programs will alleviate negative emotional well-being outcomes in parents.

The current study uses 2 existing datasets- one from Dr. Nicholson in the Psychology Department and the other dataset from Dr. Wright in the Nutrition department here at UNF. Secondary analysis will be conducted to evaluate food insecurity and mental health. Participants from Dr. Nicholson’s dataset consist of parents recruited from local Head Start locations throughout Northeast Florida, and the second dataset from Dr. Wright uses a sub-sample of parents from a population of food pantry recipients in the Jacksonville and Tampa area.

In both datasets, food insecurity was evaluated using the USDA’s Food Security Survey Module. The last 2 questions listed in the table indicate the severity of food insecurity. “Giving children healthier food and adults in the household eating less healthy food” determines Low Food Security because it identifies a reduction in quality of diet but no disruption in food intake. Whereas the last question indicates disruptions in eating which categorizes individuals as experiencing Very Low Food Security

And both those questions also address the Child Sacrifice Theory, which is when parents make sacrifices for their children. In this case, parents are sacrificing their own healthy eating practices in order for their children to stay healthy.

To assess emotional well-being, Dr. Nicholson’s dataset uses the Perceived Stress Scale. While Dr. Wright’s, uses the WHO-5 Well Being Index and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 Item Scale.

By recognizing food insecurity as a Continuum with different levels of severity it can serve 4 beneficial purposes:

First, it can allow us to identify individuals who are at higher risk of the mental health consequences of severe food insecurity. Future research could potentially expand upon this by also investigating the nutritional and physical health of children and adults in a food and secure context.

Second, programs can use this approach to better address the needs of individuals unique situations. For example, individuals who are at Very Low Food Security may have different needs than someone at Low Food Security.

And programs could utilize this approach to monitor the effectiveness of interventions. They can see if their interventions help individuals move from Very Low Food Security to Low Food Security or potentially reach full Food Security.

And lastly, distinguishing between the different levels of food insecurity and participation in food assistance programs may serve as a useful moderator in understanding variations in parent and child outcomes

Food insecurity is a complex concept that requires extensive research in economics, social, environmental, and political systems. However, research that addresses food security as a continuum, rather than an oversimplified single label, allows for expansion in research in understanding how to possibly conquer this multi-faceted issue.

For additional questions, my contact info is located on the bottom left-hand corner of my poster.

Thank you for your time! And thank you to Dr. Nicholson and Dr. Wright for their guidance and mentorship throughout my research.

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