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Maternal depression symptoms are highly prevalent among food-insecure households in Ethiopia

  • Seifu Hagos Gebreyesus (a1) (a2), Bilal Shikur Endris (a1), Charlotte Hanlon (a2) (a3) and Bernt Lindtjørn (a4)

We aimed to evaluate the association between household food insecurity and maternal depression in Ethiopia.


In 2014, we conducted a cross-sectional study in southern Ethiopia, including 591 food-secure and 2500 food-insecure households. We measured depression status of women using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 validated for Ethiopia, with a cut-off of ≥5. We evaluated household-level food insecurity using a validated Household Food Insecurity Access Scale. We applied Bayesian modelling to evaluate the relationship between food insecurity and maternal depression accounting for other observed characteristics.


Among the analytic sample, 80·8 (95 % CI 79·4, 82·2) % of women were living in food-insecure households. The overall prevalence of probable depression (mild and moderate forms) was 4·7 (95 % CI 4·1, 5·6) %. All individual depressive symptoms had a significantly higher prevalence in the food-insecure group, except for suicidal ideation (but small numbers; P<0·001). In the Bayesian model adjusting for paternal characteristics, there was a significant dose–response linear relationship (trend) between household food insecurity and maternal depression (P<0·01). The adjusted OR (95 % Bayesian credible interval) for depression for differing levels of food insecurity were: mild food insecurity, 3·29 (1·63, 6·18); moderate, 3·82 (1·91, 7·45); severe, 12·50 (3·38, 32·70).


The study documented a high burden of depression among women who lived in food-insecure households. Given this finding, we recommend integrating mental health in the livelihood programmes in areas suffering from food insecurity.

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