Food and Behaviour Research

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05 February 2015 - MNT - Children's hunger born from mothers' trauma

Adverse Childhood Experiences linked to household food insecurity

The roots of children's hunger today may stretch back, in part, to the past childhood trauma of their caregivers. Evidence amassed over the past two decades has demonstrated that stress and deprivation during childhood have lifelong consequences on health, as well as school and job performance. A new small-scale study from Drexel University now suggests a strong relationship between exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and household food insecurity among mothers of young children.

"This is brutal stuff," said Mariana Chilton, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities in the Drexel University School of Public Health, who was lead author of the study now published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. "The causes and realities of hunger and poverty are complicated and difficult to unravel. We are seeing one component of them is that, for many people, experiences of hunger have trauma and adversity at their core."

This Childhood Stress study, led by Chilton with several Drexel M.P.H. graduates, used both quantitative and qualitative methods to gather information about 31 Philadelphia mothers' experience with deprivation, abuse, violence and neglect, as well as their experiences with hunger, education and employment and more.

The findings, Chilton and colleagues say, show that trauma and chronic stress are a largely overlooked part of the picture of why one in five American households with young children live with food insecurity. They say it indicates a greater need for public assistance programs to provide support for families' emotional needs in addition to their material needs.

The researchers recommend that those working to address poverty and hunger in children should include emotional health of parents and caregivers in a more comprehensive approach to policy and services. Such an approach should include ensuring parents and caregivers have safe places to live, access to behavioral health support and opportunities to develop positive social relationships. They also recommend providing public assistance programs that recognize widespread exposure to trauma and violence, offering additional support to participants with behavioral health barriers to employment, and implementing programs in ways that avoid re-traumatization.