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Hunger and Mental Health: How they’re connected, and impact families

When we think of what hunger looks like, a person with a boney frame or a bulging stomach might come to mind. But hunger can have a less visible effect that is just as damaging: our mental health. A Health Equity study revealed that one of the factors of depression was hunger due to food insecurity.

Food insecurity in the U.S. increased to 24.6 percent in 2022, according to Urban Institute research. For some food-insecure individuals, the worry of not knowing where their next meal may come from can impact their mental health. Some families face the decision of either paying for rent, electricity, or medication over food.

Some families turn to food pantries to offset rising prices at the grocery store. At the food pantry based at Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, the pantry so far this year is serving at least 100 families per market day, almost 30% more than last year.

There is an undeniable link between hunger and mental health, but how does that connection affect our bodies and minds long-term?

Effects of Food Insecurity/Hunger on Adults' Mental Health

Suffering from hunger long-term takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Sunshine Behavioral Health reports someone the chance of experiencing depression increases by 253 percent.

In addition, mothers of school-aged children who reported severe hunger were more likely to develop a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD, an American Academy of Pediatrics study finds.

Effects of Food Insecurity/Hunger on Children’s Mental Health

Children need essential nutrients for their mind and body to grow and develop. Keeping our bodies fueled throughout the day with the right food helps us stay focused and motivated, the same goes for kids. Without the proper nutrition to get through the day, it’s difficult for anyone to stay focused.

Hunger might cause a child to suffer from a lack of energy, irritability, and low self-esteem, according to Feeding America. Hunger affects concentration at school, and may even cause a child to fall behind academically.

In addition, children who suffer from severe hunger may have a higher chance of internalizing behavior problems. The lack of nutrition can also cause a predisposition to illnesses now, and later on in life. The same study showed that children are 56 percent more likely to develop PTSD if they live with severe hunger.

Effects of Food Insecurity/Hunger on Long-Term Health

The effects of food insecurity not only affects our mental health but our physical health as well.

News Medical Life Sciences states that food insecurity has long-term consequences for individuals suffering from severe hunger. The side effects of hunger can lead to several physical health problems.

Feeding America states that 58 percent of the households that receive food from them have at least one family member with high blood pressure, and 33 percent have at least one member with diabetes.

Children who suffer from food insecurity may be affected by the same health conditions later on in life. But children are still at risk of other health conditions. Unto reports that more than 45 million children globally experience wasting, which causes a person’s body to become progressively weaker. In addition, Unto reports 149 million children’s growth is stunted as a result of the lack of proper nutrition.

As the rate of food insecurity increases, the likeliness of hunger impacting physical and mental wellbeing also rises.

To prepare for the expected increase of need for food this summer, LSSNEFL launched “Feed the Future: A Summer Without Hunger.” fundraiser. The goal is to raise $10,000 by June 30th.

That’s where you come in. We need your help. If you are in a position to support the LSS Food Pantry efforts, make a donation to


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