Dr. Matthew L. Romo, a recent epidemiology graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and colleagues recently published an article examining the relationship between hunger and mental health outcomes among school-going Ecuadorian adolescents. His work was published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
Mental health and food insecurity are major public health issues among adolescents in Ecuador. The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between hunger, symptoms of depression, and suicidal ideation among school-going Ecuadorian adolescents.
The research team used data from the 2007 Global School-based Student Health Survey from Quito, Guayaquil, and Zamora, Ecuador. Hunger was defined as having gone hungry in the past 30 days due to lack of food in the home. Outcomes of interest were symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation with or without planning in the past year. The sample included more than 5,500 students.
Overall, 41.2 percent of students reported experiencing hunger. Students who were sometimes hungry were 1.80 times more likely to be depressed and students who were hungry most of the time or always hungry were 2.01 times more likely to be depressed than students who had not experienced hunger in the last 30 days. Students who were sometimes hungry were 1.55 times more likely to have suicidal ideation with planning and students who were hungry most of the time or always hungry were 2.63 times more likely to have suicidal ideation with planning than students who had not experienced hunger in the last 30 days.
The researchers concluded that strategies to improve mental health among adolescents in Ecuador should consider the potential contribution of hunger and food insecurity.