California Latinos Who Are Food Insecure Are More Likely to Report Psychological Distress

Latinos in California who worry about where their next meal will come from are more likely to report serious psychological distress, according to a new study.

The lower the food security of the person, the more likely they were to report psychological problems, UCLA researchers report in the study, published Nov. 25 on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

“We found that food insecurity was prevalent among Hispanic people living in poverty and was significantly associated with past month SPD (serious psychological distress),” the researchers write. “These results demonstrate the need for further targeted public health efforts, such as community gardens led by promotores, faith-based initiatives, and initiatives to reduce barriers to participation in food-assistance programs.”

The study used data from the California Health Interview Survey from 2007, 2009 and 2011-12. Researchers looked at 10,966 adults who identified themselves as Hispanic and whose income was below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Researchers did not compare other racial or ethnic groups for the study.

Nearly 30 percent of those studied reported having low food security, and they were almost twice as likely to have reported psychological distress in the last month, compared with those who didn’t worry about having enough food.

About 13 percent of the study’s population experienced very low food security, and they were more than four times as likely to report psychological distress in the last month.

Citing previous research, the authors say that food insecurity can result in a number of other health problems.

“Food insecurity and hunger are public health issues that result in negative health outcomes, including obesity, poor dietary intake, and mental illness and gastrointestinal infections,” the report states.

The authors call on the government to make food assistance programs more accessible.

“Given the high prevalence of low and very low food security among the adult Hispanic population living in poverty, heightened efforts to improve food security are critical, especially in light of the negative health effects noted in the literature and our study,” they write.

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