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April 2024Vol. 25, No. 3Study Examines County-Level Associations Between Food Insecurity and Child Maltreatment Risk

Child welfare literature often suggests there is a connection between food insecurity and child maltreatment risk. A new county-level analysis aims to build on existing literature and expand findings to general populations, given that many previous studies are limited to urban, low-income, high-risk populations.

The 2023 analysis in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence is the first to report county-level associations between food insecurity and child maltreatment risk, according to the researchers. It features data that cover more than 96 percent of U.S. counties from 2009 to 2018. Researchers gathered data from national sources, including child maltreatment risk records, community food insecurity estimates from Map the Meal Gap, and census data. Researchers examined food insecurity and child maltreatment risk by analyzing both within-community longitudinal changes (within-effects) and intercommunity differences (between-effects).

In looking at between-effects, researchers found higher food insecurity was significantly associated with increased child maltreatment risk, with findings being consistent by age, sex, maltreatment type, and urbanicity. Within-effects indicate that food insecurity rates and child maltreatment risk rates differed significantly by urbanicity. Increased food insecurity was associated with increased maltreatment risk in large urban areas, but not in small urban and rural counties.

Researchers discuss data implications in the analysis, including the following:

  • The study provides evidence supporting community-based interventions in food-insecure communities to address high rates of food insecurity and child maltreatment.
  • The study provides evidence supporting a positive community-level relationship between food insecurity and child maltreatment reporting in the general population, indicating the potential benefits of large-scale policy efforts to lower food insecurity rates.
  • Food insecurity screening among professionals working with children and families may help with early intervention among families who are at risk.
  • Multidisciplinary efforts between nutrition, child welfare, public health, medical, and educational professionals may promote health and well-being among families.

The analysis also indicates that more research is needed to do the following:

  • Understand protective and risk functions of urban-rural contexts
  • Consider the racial and ethnic contexts of food insecurity
  • Understand what drives longitudinal changes in child maltreatment risk rates

For more information, read the study analysis in "Community Food Insecurity and Child Maltreatment Reports: County-Level Analysis of U.S. National Data From 2009 to 2018."