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Food insufficiency is associated with psychiatric morbidity in a nationally representative study of mental illness among food insecure Canadians



Studies suggest that people who are food insecure are more likely to experience mental illness. However, little is known about which aspects of food insecurity place individuals most at risk of mental illness. The purpose of this study was to establish the prevalence of mental illness among food insecure Canadians, and examine whether mental illness differs between those who are consuming insufficient amounts of food versus poor quality foods.


This analysis utilized the publically available dataset from the Canadian Community Health Survey cycle 4.1. Bivariable and multivariable logistic regression were used to examine the associations between food insecurity and mental health disorder diagnosis, while adjusting for potential confounders. Stratified analyses were used to identify vulnerable sub-groups.


Among 5,588 Canadian adults (18–64 years) reporting food insecurity, 58 % reported poor food quality and 42 % reported food insufficiency. The prevalence of mental health diagnosis was 24 % among participants with poor food quality, and 35 % among individuals who were food insufficient (hunger). After adjusting for confounders, adults experiencing food insufficiency had 1.69 adjusted-odds [95 % confidence interval (CI): 1.49–1.91] of having a mental health diagnosis. Stratified analyses revealed increased odds among women (a-OR 1.89, 95 % CI 1.62–2.20), single parent households (a-OR 2.05, 95 % CI 1.51–2.78), and non-immigrants (a-OR 1.88, 95 % CI 1.64–2.16).


The prevalence of mental illness is alarmingly high in this population-based sample of food insecure Canadians. These findings suggest that government and community-based programming aimed at strengthening food security should integrate supports for mental illness in this population.

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The authors wish to greatly acknowledge Dr. Mieke Koehoorn for her ongoing support and helpful comments on this manuscript which was written as part of a graduate course at UBC; KAM designed the research, analyzed the data; KAM wrote the first draft, PD, SF and AA supported the final manuscript; AA had primary responsibility for the final content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript. KAM is funded through a doctoral fellowship through the Canadian Association for HIV/AIDS Research administered by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR). PD is funded through the Population Health Intervention Research Network. SF is funded through a CIHR post-doctoral award. AA is funded through the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships of CIHR.

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Correspondence to Katherine A. Muldoon.

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Muldoon, K.A., Duff, P.K., Fielden, S. et al. Food insufficiency is associated with psychiatric morbidity in a nationally representative study of mental illness among food insecure Canadians. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 48, 795–803 (2013).

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  • Food insecurity
  • Food insufficiency
  • Hunger
  • Mental illness
  • Canada