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The Impact of Food Insecurity on Mental Health


When families experience food insecurity, hunger may be only one result. An often-overlooked factor of insufficient access to food is the detrimental impact on mental health.

Adults with low food security are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and heightened stress [1]. Socio-economic background, race, culture, and location all play a role in the development of one’s psychological well-being. Historically marginalized groups are already at a disproportionate disadvantage to being affected by unfavorable social determinants of their physical and mental health [2]. One’s (in)ability to consistently access nutritious, healthy food may also impact self-esteem, body image, and overall relationship with food.

Military Families

For our military families, these factors may also be compounded by:

  • Effects of relocation (moving expenses, spousal unemployment, and related stressors),
  • The emotions of being away from support systems (family/friends),
  • And the possibility of being in a rural area with limited access to stores and community support.

The status of a family as food insecure has the potential to present long-term effects that impact the cognitive development and mental health of children and adults alike. So, what are some ways service providers can assist families that may be experiencing food insecurity?

Education and Connection

Discussions about food security status may be a sensitive topic for adults. Many hold stigmas around food insecurity. The USDA has identified a two-question screener that can lead to assessing if someone (and their family) is food insecure. Opening the conversation to dialogue on if families are food secure may inform other areas in your client needs support.

  • OneOp’s Advancing Food Security for Military Families course will mobilize professionals at federal, state, and local levels to focus on expanding food security for our military family population. The course will be available June 1st, and free CE credits will be offered.

Clinicians, service providers, community advocates, and caring professionals can be the conduit to translate local and regional resources for families. By understanding the local and national networks and support systems in place you can provide families with resources to utilize to obtain healthy food within your community. Such programs include government assistance programs such as SNAP, WIC, and local programs offered by community food pantries and Extension offices.

  • Our upcoming June 28th MFRA interactive workshop on Building Networks to Alleviate Food Insecurity to connect with fellow practitioners and create a localized Food Security Resource reference guide of food programs and resources for your care community.

Food security interventions need to be integrated into a broader framework of support for military families, including financial counseling, employment assistance, and mental health services. This needs to happen at a systemic level and DoD is working on policy with these needs in mind. But in the meantime, as those changes evolve, clinicians can serve as advocates for families in immediate need of services. I

With the compounded effects of the COVID-19 era, economic instability, and other larger-level impacts, many families are experiencing a lack of access to consistent, healthy foods. May is mental health awareness month. And as we continue the conversations around food security, understanding the impact on mental wellness and incorporating a multi-level approach is key.

To be a part of our ongoing conversations with fellow professionals and national experts around expanding food security for all military families, subscribe to our MFRA mailing list and join our 2023 Military Family Readiness Academy, Military Families and Food Security: A Call to Action.

  1. Wolfson, J. A., Garcia, T., & Leung, C. W. (2021). Food Insecurity Is Associated with Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: Evidence from the Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States. Health Equity, 5(1), 64–71. Retrieved from:
  2. National Alliance on Mental Health. Social Determinants Of Health: Food Security. Retrieved from:

    Kalin Goble

    Co-Principal Investigator, OneOp Family Development

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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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