Intimate partner violence linked to 'food insecurity'
Women who experience physical, mental or sexual abuse in their intimate relationships are more likely to be "food insecure," according to a new study from Texas Obesity Research Center (TORC) at the University of Houston.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines "food insecurity" as a state that has to do with rationing, portion control and the inability to prepare balanced, healthy meals.
Depression, the study found, serves as the bridge between food insecurity and partner violence.
"Our study found that women experiencing intimate partner violence are more likely to be depressed, which impacts their ability to ensure a food-secure household," said TORC researcher Daphne Hernandez.
Challenges of motivation and support
Hernandez analyzed data on nearly 1,700 women who were involved in a close romantic relationship (either cohabitating or married) and who had also experienced intimate partner violence of some kind, whether physical, mental or sexual.
Mothers who experienced some type of intimate partner violence, Hernandez found, were 44 percent more likely to experience depression. And in households where mothers were depressed, they were twice as likely to be food insecure.
"It appears that depression may impact mothers' motivation to obtain and prepare food due to their decreased appetite, mental and physical fatigue and feelings of being overwhelmed," she said. "Additionally the moms' feelings of helplessness, brought on by the violence they experienced, may challenged them to access the proper support."
Hernandez said that few studies have analyzed how maternal factors influence food insecurity, and these factors may very well be critical in how dynamics of nutrition, health and obesity play out in family systems. She hopes the results of the study will help organizations that support families in times of crisis.
"What this means is that targeting issues central to women's health must become a priority in combating food insecurity," Hernandez said. "Providing mental health screenings at the time individuals apply for food assistance may help identify women who need interventions to keep them safe, mental healthy and food secure."
Results of the study are published in the Journal of Women's Health.