The Impact of Food Insecurity on the Home Emotional Environment Among Low-Income Mothers of Young Children


Objectives Household stressors, such as food insecurity, contribute to the home emotional environment and negatively affect child development. Little research on this topic has been conducted among very young children. This study aimed to examine the relationship between food insecurity and the home emotional environment, as well the extent to which the relationship may be mediated by maternal symptoms of depression. Frequency of praise, affection, and discipline of young children by mothers were examined as markers of the home emotional environment. Methods Data were collected in a cross-sectional study of mothers of children under the age of five (N = 4231). Logistic regression was used to assess the relationship between level of food security and frequency of praise and discipline of children. Mediation analysis using the KHB method was conducted to test whether maternal mental health mediated the relationship between food insecurity and each outcome. Results Low and very low food security were significantly associated with higher odds of disciplining children with high frequency. Controlling for all covariates, frequency of praise was not significantly associated with level of household food insecurity. Differences in praise and discipline frequency were found by language of interview, maternal education, and employment. Conclusions for Practice Parent–child interactions, specifically related to discipline, are related to food insecurity. Further research should consider cultural patterns and mechanisms behind the relationship between food insecurity and the home environment. Household stressors begin affecting children at young ages, and early intervention is essential to prevent further negative sequelae as children grow older.

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This study was funded by First 5 LA.

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Correspondence to Monique Gill.

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Gill, M., Koleilat, M. & Whaley, S.E. The Impact of Food Insecurity on the Home Emotional Environment Among Low-Income Mothers of Young Children. Matern Child Health J 22, 1146–1153 (2018).

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  • Food insecurity
  • Emotional environment
  • Parenting
  • Preschool-aged children