Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert R. Althoff


Household food insecurity places children at risk for adverse psychological and developmental outcomes despite usually being protected from hunger and malnutrition by caregivers and school and community programs. Parenting stress may be an important mechanism through which household food insecurity negatively impacts children’s health. The current study posited a model in which caregivers experiencing food insecurity divert more attention, planning, and self-regulation towards acquiring and managing food for their family, resulting in more emotional and executive function difficulties. In turn, these challenges lead to less effective parenting and subsequent child emotional-behavioral problems. To test this, the current study used a daily-diary design to gain insights into the effects of day-to-day variability in household food insecurity on children and families. Caregivers of school-aged children living in rural Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York (N=61) provided daily ratings of their food insecurity, mood, executive function, and family interactions via smartphone for 35 consecutive days. Results showed that higher levels of past-year food insecurity and within-month variability in food insecurity were associated with more severe child emotional-behavioral problems. In addition, mean and daily levels of household food insecurity were positively associated with caregivers’ negative affect and parent-child conflict and negatively associated with caregivers’ perceived effectiveness and attention/impulse regulation. At the daily level, the effect of food insecurity on parent-child conflict was fully explained by sequential mediation paths via hunger  negative affect and hunger  attention/impulse control. Finally, the daily use of food-based coping strategies (e.g., asking friends/family to borrow money) did not appear to mitigate household food insecurity or affect caregivers’ experiences of hunger, mood, or executive functioning.Limitations and future directions are considered and implications for public policies and programming to support children and families facing food insecurity are discussed.



Number of Pages

113 p.

Available for download on Monday, May 12, 2025