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Food insufficiency during COVID-19 pandemic increases depression and anxiety symptoms

About 26% of India’s population is considered food-insecure.

Food insufficiency increased by 25 per cent during the pandemic and those who did not have enough to eat reported experiencing more depressive and anxiety symptoms, revealed a US study.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : January 12, 2021 3:58 PM IST

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in some way or another, but it hit harder on some people. While many families lost their loved ones to the disease, others lost their jobs and savings, and some were left homeless and starving. According to a US study, food insufficiency increased by 25 per cent during the pandemic and it worsen the mental health of many Americans. Those who did not have enough to eat reported experiencing more depressive and anxiety symptoms, a per the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"People of color are disproportionately affected by both food insufficiency and Covid-19. Many of these individuals have experienced job loss and higher rates of poverty during the pandemic," said Jason Nagata, MD, MSc, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco and lead author on the study.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 63,674 adults in the US. They found that Black and Latino Americans had over twice the risk of food insufficiency compared to White Americans.

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While 65 per cent of the participants reported anxiety symptoms and 52 per cent reported depressive symptoms in the week prior to completing the survey, they said.

People who did not have enough to eat during that week reported worse mental health, with 89 per cent of them reporting anxiety symptoms compared to 63 per cent of food-sufficient Americans. Similarly, 83 per cent of food-insufficient Americans, compared to 49 per cent of food-sufficient, Americans reported depressive symptoms.

"Hunger, exhaustion, and worrying about not getting enough food to eat may worsen depression and anxiety symptoms," noted Nagata.

Receipt of free groceries or meals, on the other hand, helped alleviate some of the mental health burden of food insufficiency, according to the researchers.

Kyle Ganson, PhD, MSW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, a co-author of the study, suggested that policymakers should expand benefits and eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other programs to address both food insecurity and mental health.

Food insufficiency can lead to chronic disease

Food insufficiency or food insecurity is generally defined as the inability to afford nutritionally adequate and safe foods. Numerous studies have revealed associations between food insecurity and adverse health outcomes, especially among children. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Nutrition also found an association between food insecurity and diet-sensitive chronic disease, including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes among low-income participants.

Not having enough food to eat can have a great impact on the health and development of young children. Food insecurity has been linked to increased hospitalizations, poor health, iron deficiency, developmental risk and behavior problems, primarily aggression, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder in children.

India has the world's largest food insecure population

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report of 2020, India has the largest population of food insecure people in the world. Data in the report showed that the prevalence of food insecurity increased by 3.8 per cent in the country between 2014 and 2019, with 6.2 crore more people living with food insecurity in 2019 than in 2014.

The report also showed that India accounted for 22 per cent of the global burden of food insecurity, the highest for any country in 2017-19.

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