Not having enough food to eat can lead to a lifetime of mental health issues.
There is a growing body of evidence linking food insecurity with mental health issues. This is particularly true for children and adolescents, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of chronic stress. Studies have specifically shown that food insecurity is linked to anxiety, depression, and trauma-based responses.
Recent data shows that millions of Americans turned to food banks for the first time in 2020 due to pandemic-related job losses and now, they’re once again doing so as prices at the grocery store continue to climb. Food insecurity disproportionately affects children and older adults, inner-city and rural residents, farmers, people of color, and college students living away from home.
A 2019 report of survey data gathered from students at the University of Washington’s Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses found that “only 57% of students have family financial support.” The survey also found that nearly a quarter of these students experienced rent increases the same year, and many struggle to put food on the table.
Now, in a more recent study published August 8, 2022, in the journal Nature, researchers searched three databases for analytical studies linking food insecurity to mental health. They discovered 1945 studies, and in these studies, “anthropometry (especially BMI) and diets were most linked to mental health (predominantly depression).” Furthermore, “two-thirds of studies hypothesized food insecurity measures as the exposure influencing mental health outcomes.”
For many people, food insecurity is a daily reality, and unfortunately, mental health problems can make it even harder to manage it. Researchers reported, “Mental health has also been identified as a major cause of disability, although efforts to address global mental health burdens in low-resource settings is not commensurate with the magnitude of that burden. Depressive disorders alone are thought to be the single-most contributor to health loss globally…Anxiety and stress, which along with depression are the common mental health disorders, are also leading causes of disability.”
There is, in general, a strong link between physical and mental health. When a person is struggling with poor mental health, physical health deteriorates and vice versa. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all important for promoting both. Therefore, when it is not possible to do these things, both will suffer.
Over 1 billion people worldwide do not have enough food to eat, and many more are at risk of hunger. This problem is especially prevalent in developing countries, where food insecurity is often caused by poverty, conflict, and natural disasters. There are many ways to combat food insecurity, but one of the most important is to support small-scale farmers. These farmers produce the majority of the food in developing countries, but they often lack the resources and support needed to do so. Other ways to offer support include donating to, and volunteering at, food pantries. These pantries often take canned goods from local residents to be distributed to those who need them the most. Soup kitchens also try to provide hot meals to anyone who needs them. These kitchens are commonly housed in churches and run by volunteers.
Despite efforts to combat hunger, it is a colossal problem that continues to plague society. Food insecurity has a strong impact on physical, mental and emotional health. Chronic stress can lead to lifelong health issues in children and young adults that perpetuate throughout the lifetime.