Health Manager Orientation Guide

Trauma and Nutrition

A worried child being hugged by a food service staff member.A growing body of research suggests that food insecurity is a known risk factor for poor mental health outcomes, including increased stress and greater depression and anxiety. When faced with limited access to enough nutritious food, many parents report that they’ll go hungry themselves in order to feed their children. This can have a negative effect on their own physical and mental health and their interactions with their children. When screening families for food insecurity, it’s important to recognize that food insecurity can be a traumatic experience for families who may feel ashamed or worry that they’ll be seen as an inadequate caregiver. It’s helpful to be sensitive to how a family may be feeling during these conversations.

Trauma, including loss and neglect, can affect children’s relationship with food. Watch for changes in eating patterns; that could be a sign that a child isn’t getting enough food at home or an indication that a child may be responding to a traumatic event. Trauma can result in a child using food for soothing, hoarding food, or displaying other disordered eating patterns. Staff who are responsible for meal services may consult with the program’s infant and early childhood mental health consultant to understand the meaning of this behavior.

When a family says they don’t have enough money for food, they may need help getting food right away and connecting to food assistance programs.