Parental Psychological Distress and Family Food Insecurity: Sad Dads in Hungry Homes

Katie K. Tseng, Su Hyun Park, Jenni A. Shearston, Lily Lee, Michael Weitzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To examine whether household food insecurity is associated with serious psychological distress (SPD) in fathers and mothers in a nationally representative US sample. Methods: We analyzed cross-sectional, matched child-parent data from the 2014 to 2015 National Health Interview Survey (N = 18,456). Parental psychological distress was assessed using the Kessler-6 (K-6) scale. Family food security was measured using the USDA's 10-item Food Security scale, and households were dichotomized as food secure or food insecure. Multivariate logistic regression analyses were performed to examine associations between SPD and food insecurity stratified by parental status (mother/father), controlling for sociodemographic factors. Results: One hundred forty-seven (2.0%) fathers, 444 (3.9%) mothers, and 591 (3.2%) of all parents had K-6 scores indicating SPD. A total of 2414 (13.1%) parents reported being food insecure, including 750 (10.4%) fathers and 1664 (14.8%) mothers. In multivariate analyses, food insecurity was significantly associated with SPD both among fathers and mothers (odds ratio [OR] = 4.2; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.4-7.3 and OR = 2.6; 95% CI, 1.9-3.5, respectively). Conclusion: This is the first study we are aware of to demonstrate that food insecurity is independently associated with SPD among fathers and mothers, and that fathers may be at higher risk of SPD than mothers in food insecure homes. These findings highlight the need to assess and treat the mental health of fathers, a historically underrepresented group in the fields of mental health and pediatrics, in addition to mothers, in food insecure homes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-618
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Index terms: food insecurity
  • mental health
  • parental psychological distress
  • serious mental illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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