The Effect of Daily Food Insecurity on Parent and Child Well-being
Hines, Caitlin Tallent
Ryan, Rebecca M.
Food insecurity, or the lack of access to adequate food to lead an active and healthy lifestyle, poses a serious threat to children’s development. Decades of research demonstrate that food insecurity undermines functioning in every domain, disrupting physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development. In addition to affecting children through under- or malnutrition, existing studies find that food insecurity works through parental mental health and stress to influence child development. Food insecurity is an economic stressor that can increase psychological distress for parents, resulting in decreased quality of parent-child interactions and child development as a result. Past research on food insecurity and the role of parents in the relationship between the food insecurity and child development, however, is largely correlational in design and fails to establish causal links between food insecurity and parent and child outcomes. Further, existing research focuses almost exclusively on food insecurity measured over long periods of time, providing little understanding of how food insecurity affects the daily lives of children and families. This dissertation aims to address both of these issues, by identifying the daily effects food insecurity on parent and child outcomes in a manner that is much more plausibly causal than prior research. Through a series of four research questions, this dissertation explores the nature of the relationship between food insecurity and parent and child outcomes on a daily basis, by comparing parents and children to themselves, over time. Findings demonstrate, for the first time, that food insecurity influences parent and child well-being on a daily basis, and that parent mood and behavior are responsible for part of the of the effect of daily food insecurity on child mood and behavior. Effects of food insecurity were stronger and sustained longer for parents compared to children, and effects of food insecurity increased for both parents and children alongside food insecurity severity. Differences in results by child age and food insecurity type were explored. This is the first study to examine daily effects of food insecurity on parent and child well-being and carries important implications for food assistance programs, policies, and the future of food insecurity research.
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