American teens make risk and reward calculations under conditions of scarcity, which psychologists recognize as an environment that distorts cognitive abilities. Most of the research on adolescent food insecurity looks at contemporaneous associations with data from a point in time, sometimes on non-representative samples and without controlling for poverty. In this study, we explore how exposure to food insecurity during adolescence might change one's life trajectory (separately from poverty). We estimate the relationship between exposure to food insecurity from ages 12–15 and the life choices reported by young adults aged 18–25 across a number of domains including sexual risk taking, drug/alcohol use, delinquent behaviors, and mental health. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and controlling for permanent income and a host of sociodemographic variables, including race, gender, age, maternal education, neighborhood conditions, and early family environments, we present consistent evidence that experiences of food insecurity are positively associated with the number of children for whom a respondent is responsible. In addition, food insecure adolescents have a higher conditional probability of clinically significant psychological distress.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science