Child hunger represents an adverse experience that could contribute to mental health problems in later life. The objectives of this study were to: (1) examine the long-term effects of the reported experience of child hunger on late adolescence and young adult mental health outcomes; and (2) model the independent contribution of the child hunger experience to these long-term mental health outcomes in consideration of other experiences of child disadvantage.
Using logistic regression, we analyzed data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth covering 1994 through 2008/2009, with data on hunger and other exposures drawn from NLSCY Cycle 1 (1994) through Cycle 7 (2006/2007) and mental health data drawn from Cycle 8 (2008/2009). Our main mental health outcome was a composite measure of depression and suicidal ideation.
The prevalence of child hunger was 5.7% (95% CI 5.0–6.4). Child hunger was a robust predictor of depression and suicidal ideation [crude OR=2.9 (95% CI 1.4–5.8)] even after adjustment for potential confounding variables, OR=2.3 (95% CI 1.2–4.3).
A single question was used to assess child hunger, which itself is a rare extreme manifestation of food insecurity; thus, the spectrum of child food insecurity was not examined, and the rarity of hunger constrained statistical power.
Child hunger appears to be a modifiable risk factor for depression and related suicide ideation in late adolescence and early adulthood, therefore prevention through the detection of such children and remedy of their circumstances may be an avenue to improve adult mental health.