Food Insecurity Is Associated with Depression among a Vulnerable Workforce: Early Care and Education Workers

Image of children playing on mats.

Supportive policies and center-level interventions targeting food insecurity and depression may help to protect and improve the health of ECE teachers, a vital, yet vulnerable, population. In a study of 313 early care and education (ECE) teachers from 49 ECE centers, very low and low food insecurities were associated with higher odds of depression when compared to being food secure.

A healthy ECE workforce is vital to the delivery of quality childcare. There is growing awareness that ECE providers are poorly paid and this is negatively affecting their health and well-being, as well as opportunities to provide the highest quality of care for young children. Study findings shed light on potential opportunities to help improve the situation. Policies and center-level interventions that address both food insecurity and depression in the ECE workforce may be warranted, in order to protect and improve the health of this valuable, yet vulnerable, segment of the U.S. workforce. Potential policy-level strategies in the U.S. could include incorporating ECE workers as recipients of the federally reimbursed nutritious meals and snacks already served on-site to children via the Child and Adult Care Food Program or adopting legislation or provisions that improve financial security for ECE workers (e.g., tax credits, raised minimum wage). Centers could also provide workers with resources and connections to nutrition education and food assistance programs, as misunderstandings and uncertainty around eligibility for food stamp benefits are fairly common, and population-specific outreach and education around food assistance participation eligibility may encourage participation. Finally, centers could include routine staff training on mental health and emotional well-being, coping skills, and stress management.

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