Maternal Depression Affects Maternal Eating Behaviors as shown by Levels of Disinhibition, Food Insecurity, and Perceived Barriers to Healthy Eating in a sample of Wic Mothers

Open Access
Geida, Jessica Ashley
Area of Honors:
Human Development and Family Studies
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jennifer Savage Williams, Thesis Supervisor
  • Leann L Birch, Thesis Supervisor
  • Ronald Albert Markle, Honors Advisor
  • Kathryn Bancroft Hynes, Honors Advisor
  • maternal depression
  • restraint
  • disinhibition
  • food insecurity
  • barriers to healthy eating
  • WIC mothers
Background: One in 10 mothers is depressed in the United States. Depression impacts a mother’s ability to care for herself and others. Additionally, low-income mothers are often food insecure and nutritionally deprived. The purpose of this study is to understand the prevalence of depression among low-income mothers enrolled in WIC of birth to two years, examine the relationship between depression and restraint/disinhibition, and to investigate how depression is associated with perceived levels of food insecurity and barriers to healthy eating. Methods: The study consisted of a cross-section of 60 low-income mothers enrolled in central Pennsylvania’s WIC program. Mothers completed the Eating Inventory to assess restraint and disinhibited eating, Food Insecurity Screen and View of Family Meals questionnaire, Barriers to Healthy Eating Survey (BHES), and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D Scale). Height and weight were self-reported. Results: The majority of mothers were white (75%), unemployed (50%), and had annual incomes below the poverty level (46%); 37% were clinically depressed. Depressed mothers were significantly less likely to engage in disinhibited eating and more likely to report higher levels of dislike for healthy foods and difficulties attaining healthy foods contributing to higher total barriers to healthy eating (p<0.05). Depressed mothers also reported higher levels of food insecurity (p<0.5). There was no significant relationship between depression and restraint or maternal BMI (Pr>0.15). Conclusions: The proportion of mothers who were clinically depressed was 3.6 times higher than the national average and was associated with lower levels of disinhibited eating, higher barriers to healthy eating, and higher reported food insecurity. Depression also has adverse effects on mother’s parenting abilities such as reducing responsive parenting and responsive feeding, leading to poor outcomes for the child. In future WIC intervention programs, depression treatment through counseling or support groups and the importance of consuming a healthy diet should be addressed to ensure that depressed mothers engage in healthy eating practices and do not face unnecessary struggles with parenting.