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Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
January 15, 2021
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COVID-19 pandemic tied to increase in food insufficiency, which has affected mental health

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has increased food insufficiency among vulnerable populations and increased risk for symptoms of poor mental health, according to study results published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Although rates of food insecurity were projected to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, prior studies had not examined the relationship between food insufficiency, the most extreme form of food insecurity, and mental health,” Jason M. Nagata MD, MSc, of the department of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, told Healio Psychiatry. “We wanted to estimate the national prevalence of food insufficiency and its relationship to mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Jason M. Nagata

Nagata and colleagues analyzed cross-sectional data of 63,674 individuals included in the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey and used multiple Poisson regression models to estimate associations with food insufficiency.

Results showed an increase in food insufficiency from 8.1% in March 2020 to 10% in June 2020. Lower age, Black/African American or Latinx race/ethnicity, being unmarried, larger household size, recent employment loss, income below the federal poverty line and lower education were all associated with food insufficiency. The researchers noted an independent association between food insufficiency and all symptoms of poor mental health, adjusting for socioeconomic and demographic factors. Among people who received free groceries or meals, the link between food insufficiency and poor mental health was attenuated.

“Clinicians should assess for food insecurity and poor mental health during the pandemic,” Nagata said. “There are brief two-question screeners for food insecurity validated for use in primary care. Clinicians can also provide referrals and support for programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.”