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Parental Psychological Distress and Family Food Insecurity

Sad Dads in Hungry Homes

Tseng, Katie K. MPH*; Park, Su Hyun PhD, MPH†,‡; Shearston, Jenni A. MPH*,‡,¶; Lee, Lily†,§; Weitzman, Michael MD*,†,‡,‖,¶

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October 2017 - Volume 38 - Issue 8 - p 611–618
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000481
Original Articles
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Objective: To examine whether household food insecurity is associated with serious psychological distress (SPD) in fathers and mothers in a nationally representative US sample.

Methods: We analyzed cross-sectional, matched child-parent data from the 2014 to 2015 National Health Interview Survey (N = 18,456). Parental psychological distress was assessed using the Kessler-6 (K-6) scale. Family food security was measured using the USDA's 10-item Food Security scale, and households were dichotomized as food secure or food insecure. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed to examine associations between SPD and food insecurity stratified by parental status (mother/father), controlling for sociodemographic factors.

Results: One hundred forty-seven (2.0%) fathers, 444 (3.9%) mothers, and 591 (3.2%) of all parents had K-6 scores indicating SPD. A total of 2414 (13.1%) parents reported being food insecure, including 750 (10.4%) fathers and 1664 (14.8%) mothers. In multivariate analyses, food insecurity was significantly associated with SPD both among fathers and mothers (odds ratio [OR] = 4.2; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.4–7.3 and OR = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.9–3.5, respectively).

Conclusion: This is the first study we are aware of to demonstrate that food insecurity is independently associated with SPD among fathers and mothers, and that fathers may be at higher risk of SPD than mothers in food insecure homes. These findings highlight the need to assess and treat the mental health of fathers, a historically underrepresented group in the fields of mental health and pediatrics, in addition to mothers, in food insecure homes.

*College of Global Public Health, New York University, New York, NY;

Department of Pediatrics, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY;

Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY;

§Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY;

Department of Environmental Medicine, New York University, New York, NY;

New York University/Abu Dhabi Public Health Research Center, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Address for reprints: Michael Weitzman, MD, 1 Park Avenue, Lower Level, New York, NY 10016; e-mail:

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Received March , 2017

Accepted May , 2017

Copyright © 2017 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.