Informal assistance to urban families and the risk of household food insecurity

Christian King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Rationale Food insecurity is a persistent social problem affecting one out of eight households in the United States. While evidence shows that public assistance programs (formal assistance) are effective in reducing food insecurity, there is more limited evidence documenting how informal support, through social capital, affects food insecurity. Objective To examine the role of informal support (through instrumental social support, social cohesion, social control, and social participation) on food insecurity transitions using longitudinal data of a sample of disadvantaged urban mothers from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. In addition, the study examines whether these associations vary by participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) using interaction terms. Method The sample includes 2481 mothers of children between ages three and five. The analysis uses unadjusted and adjusted logistic regressions. Interaction terms are included to examine formal and informal support. In addition, the analysis uses structural equation modeling to examine direct and indirect associations of the informal support variables on food insecurity. Results Social support and social cohesion reduce the risk of food insecurity, reduce the risk of remaining food insecure, and reduce the risk of becoming food insecure. Social control has an indirect effect on food insecurity, which is mainly through social cohesion. Social participation also has an indirect effect through social support and social cohesion. SNAP participation for mothers with little to no informal support did not reduce the risk of food insecurity. Conclusion Instead of focusing on improving the food access of households, interventions should be expanded to the neighborhood level. Building social capital for low-income residents would increase the cohesiveness of their neighborhoods and their access to social support, which would increase the availability of resources to prevent or overcome food insecurity and other hardships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-113
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Collective efficacy
  • Community
  • Food insecurity
  • Neighborhood
  • Poverty
  • Social cohesion
  • Social control
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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