Our quarterly Research Roundup features highlights from recent studies and reports in the realm of food, health, and community belonging.
Family meals linked to healthier eating habits
A review of studies by Dallacker, Hertwig and Mata found that children and teens who sit down for family meals more often are more likely to have healthier eating habits and lower BMI. These findings were consistent for children across age groups and regardless of how many family members were present at meals. More research is needed to better understand how family meals and nutritional health are connected. E.g. Do family meals lead to improved child nutrition or are health-conscious families more likely to eat together, or are both true?
Food insecurity linked to early cessation of breastfeeding
A recent study by Orr et al. found that women experiencing food insecurity are more likely to stop exclusive breastfeeding early, meaning infants and mothers are less likely to reap the physical and emotional health benefits associated with breastfeeding. The study highlights the need to better understand the barriers that prevent food insecure women from continuing to breastfeed and to identify more effective interventions to support the health and wellbeing of food insecure families with infants.
Exploring the impacts of taxing unhealthy products on low- and high-income households
A new study in The Lancet explores the equity implications of taxing unhealthy products, specifically soft drinks, unhealthy snacks, alcohol, and tobacco. Researchers predict that taxes would affect a larger number of high-income households because they tend to spend more on food and drink. Additionally, low-income households stand to experience larger health benefits because they are more likely to reduce consumption in response to price increases.
Findings also indicate that taxes could place a heavier financial burden on low-income households given that they have smaller budgets. The authors suggest that this potential burden would be outweighed by health gains and could be mitigated by investing tax revenue into initiatives that benefit low-income households.
The social and psychological impacts of food bank use
Middleton et al. conducted a review of recent studies
to explore the experiences and perceptions of people who use food banks. They found that while food bank recipients were mostly thankful for the service and positive about volunteers and staff, they consistently reported limited food choices, poor food quality, and feelings of shame and stigma associated with food bank use. At a time when food banks are the most dominant response to food insecurity in Canada and other high-income countries, authors emphasize the need to question the food bank model as a long-term strategy and assess how well food banks are meeting the social and psychological needs of people who are food insecure.
Food insecurity and mental health
PROOF released a new fact sheet that brings attention to the close relationship between food insecurity and poor mental health. Food insecurity makes it harder for people to manage chronic mental health issues, while at the same time, mental illness can make it more difficult to escape food insecurity. Here are some key research findings included in the fact sheet:
Adults living in food insecure homes are more likely to experience mental health issues, including mood disorders, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts;
Children facing food insecurity have a greater risk of childhood mental health problems and experiences of childhood hunger have serious and lasting impacts on mental health;
Adults living in food insecure homes account for one out of every three mental health-related hospitalizations in Ontario.