Maternal Mental Health Mediates the Relationship Between Household Food Insecurity and Early Child Development in Brazil

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Food and Nutrition Bulletin





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Background: Optimal early child development (ECD) is fundamental for every child to achieve their developmental potential and thrive. Household food insecurity (HFI) is a risk factor for suboptimal development, but there is still a need to better understand the pathways that explain this relationship. Objective: To evaluate whether maternal mental health and infant’s diet mediate the association between HFI and ECD using structural equation modeling. Methods: Cross-sectional study with 474 mother–infant dyads. Mothers answered a questionnaire that evaluated variables through validated instruments. Structural equation modeling analyses were conducted to obtain standardized effects (β) and bias-corrected 95% CI, enabling comparisons between the magnitude of the effects. The following observed variables were included: HFI, ECD, consumption of a healthy and diverse diet, the presence of a partner in the household, wanted pregnancy, and current breastfeeding. Latent variables were included to evaluate mental health, poverty, and neonatal health. Results: Poor maternal mental health mediated the relationship between HFI and ECD (β = −.05), but a healthy and diverse diet was not a mediator in this relationship. Poverty was related to lower development scores directly (β =.21) and indirectly (β =.02). Not having a partner (β =.05) and having an unwanted pregnancy (β =.02) predicted indirectly lower development scores. Conclusions: Poor maternal mental health mediates the relationship between HFI and ECD, and ECD is influenced by poverty, single motherhood, and unwanted pregnancy through different pathways. Therefore, public policies and interventions that aim to promote an optimal ECD should also approach these aspects.


Early child development; Household food insecurity; Infant’s diet; Maternal mental health; Structural equation modeling


Maternal and Child Health



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