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Food Insecurity, Maternal Mental Health, and Domestic Violence: A Call for a Syndemic Approach to Research and Interventions

Abstract

Introduction

Food security is a prerequisite for achieving optimal health, and mothers and children living in food insecure households face barriers to physical and mental health and healthy development. Mothers in food insecure households often also experience poor mental health and domestic violence. Although associations between these domains have been explored, little research exists about the intersection of these three phenomena.

Methods

In this commentary, we briefly identify existing, relevant research that investigates the relationships between and among food insecurity, maternal mental health, and domestic violence.

Results

A substantial body of evidence from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies has demonstrated significant relationships and pathways between these co-morbidities, with bi-directional associations between food insecurity and poor mental health, domestic violence and poor mental health, and cumulative risks attributed to more severe symptoms and exposures. However, there is limited evidence about interventions that target these three areas concurrently. More specifically, there are few sustained, multi-disciplinary efforts that tackle these issues in a broad, cross-cutting way.

Discussion

In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, we suggest the adoption of an interdisciplinary approach to address more effectively the needs of the most vulnerable mothers who rest at the intersection of these issues. We identify three avenues for further research efforts.

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Acknowledgements

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Correspondence to Christina Laurenzi.

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Laurenzi, C., Field, S. & Honikman, S. Food Insecurity, Maternal Mental Health, and Domestic Violence: A Call for a Syndemic Approach to Research and Interventions. Matern Child Health J (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-019-02872-8

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Keywords

  • Food insecurity
  • Maternal mental health
  • Depression
  • Domestic violence
  • Syndemic