We often assume that low household income causes children’s food insecurity. But the Future of Children’s recent research report highlights a number of additional factors that contribute to food insecurity. One notable risk factor is a caregiver who faces mental or physical health problems.
The latest research shows that even when we account for income level, caregivers’ health is still central to children’s food security. For example, a recent paper in the Journal of Children and Poverty found that mothers in food-secure families had better overall health and were less likely to report substance use compared with mothers in food-insecure households. Craig Gunderson and James Ziliak‘s Future of Children report cites a number of health factors that can contribute to children’s food insecurity, including parental depression, parental drug use, or living with an adult with a disability.
What can we do to help children in these situations? The authors point out that the effect of caregiver’s mental and physical health on family food security raises concerns about families’ ability to navigate the welfare system. A caregiver’s health problems may also be exacerbated by lack of access to services. While the authors argue that improved access to services could improve food security, they also state that we need further research on how policy makers can create more accessible systems. The authors offer one suggestion to address the risk factor of substance use: ensuring that mothers who seek substance use treatment are enrolled in SNAP and WIC, if they are eligible. Perhaps a similar idea could be implemented in other contexts where caregivers receive medical or mental health treatment.
As more researchers explore the relationship between food security and health, new policy possibilities may come to light. However, the research highlighted in the Future of Children report makes us aware that health contributes to food security, and low income is not the only indicator of risk. In following blog posts, we will explore additional factors that influence food security. To learn more about health and food insecurity, see the Future of Children‘s Fall 2014 research report.