Food insecurity is linked not only to maternal stress and depression but also to the psychosocial functioning of children, said Edward Frongillo, Jr., professor and chair of the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. One important reason why these may be linked is through family processes, but much less is known than is needed about parent-child interactions, family eating patterns, and the social context of family life.
Much of what is known comes from the perspectives of mothers, which is reasonable because they are often the primary decision makers about food. Frongillo explained that his research has sought to extend knowledge about how family members experience and manage food insecurity. In particular, he has sought to understand children’s experiences: why and when does food insecurity happen, what do children feel about it, what happens to them as a result of food insecurity, how are they facing it, and are they protected against it?
He discussed three studies: two in-depth qualitative studies that were done in South Carolina and one mixed-method study (Bernal et al., 2009) done in the state of Miranda in Venezuela. For the presentation, Frongillo combined the data from the South Carolina studies, yielding 38 families, split between urban and rural regions, that were interviewed. The sample included African Americans, whites, and Hispanics with children ages 9 to 17. Of these families, 17 had very low food security, 12 had low food security, and 9 were food secure. These families received the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and nearly all of them were receiving free or reduced-price school lunches and/or breakfasts.
In the study in Venezuela, interviews with children using both focus groups and individual interviews were followed by cognitive testing, a field survey, and a survey of children-mother dyads, with an overall sample of 131.
Frongillo said that the results from the studies in South Carolina and Venezuela demonstrate that food insecurity affects children in terms of both awareness and responsibility. Awareness has cognitive, emotional, and physical dimensions. Responsibility involves participation, children’s own initiatives, and the resources children generate themselves. He went through each of these elements in turn.
Frongillo said that cognitive awareness implies knowing about food scarcity and the family challenges that are created by it. Children are aware