Background Food insecurity, or the limited or uncertain access to food resulting from inadequate financial resources, is associated with poor health outcomes in adulthood. Little is known about these associations specifically in young adulthood.
Aim To determine the association between food insecurity and health outcomes including chronic diseases and mental health in a nationally representative sample of US young adults.
Methods Cross-sectional nationally representative data of US young adults ages 24-32 years old from Wave IV (2008) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health were analyzed. Multiple logistic regression analysis was conducted with food insecurity as the independent variable and self-reported poor general health, chronic diseases (diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, obstructive airway disease, migraine) and mental health (depression, anxiety, suicidality, and poor sleep) outcomes as the dependent variables.
Results Of the 14,800 young adults in the sample, 11% were food insecure. Food insecure young adults had greater odds of self-reported poor general health (2.65, 95% Confidence interval [CI] 1.62-4.35) and chronic disease including diabetes (1.67, 95% CI 1.19-2.40), hypertension (1.50, 95% CI 1.22-1.84), ‘very overweight’ (1.21, 95% CI 1.01 – 1.45), obesity (1.14, 95% CI 0.99-1.31), obstructive airway disease (1.44, 95% CI 1.18-1.74), and migraine (1.68, 95% CI 1.39-2.04) compared to young adults who were food secure in models adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, household size, smoking, and alcohol. Food-insecure young adults had greater odds of mental health problems including depression (1.86, 95% CI 1.55-2.23), anxiety or panic disorder (1.60, 95% CI 1.26-2.02), suicidal ideation in the past 12 months (2.90, 95% CI 2.27-3.71), suicide attempts in the past 12 months (1.69, 95% CI 0.95-2.99), trouble falling asleep (1.69, 95% CI 1.43-2.00), and trouble staying asleep (1.81, 95% CI 1.55-2.11) in adjusted models.
Conclusions Food insecurity is a significant social determinant of poor physical and mental health in young adulthood. Health care providers should screen for food insecurity in young adults and provide referrals when appropriate. Future research should examine the association between food insecurity and health outcomes over the life course, and develop early food insecurity interventions to prevent downstream effects on health in later adulthood.
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