Open Access Research article

Household food insecurity and symptoms of neurologic disorder in Ethiopia: An observational analysis

Abdulrahman M El-Sayed123*, Craig Hadley4, Fasil Tessema5, Ayelew Tegegn5, John A Cowan6 and Sandro Galea1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

2 Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY, USA

3 Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

4 Department of Anthropology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

5 Jimma University, Jimma, Ethiopia

6 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:802  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-802

Published: 31 December 2010



Food insecurity (FI) has been shown to be associated with poor health both in developing and developed countries. Little is known about the relation between FI and neurological disorder. We assessed the relation between FI and risk for neurologic symptoms in southwest Ethiopia.


Data about food security, gender, age, household assets, and self-reported neurologic symptoms were collected from a representative, community-based sample of adults (N = 900) in Jimma Zone, Ethiopia. We calculated univariate statistics and used bivariate chi-square tests and multivariate logistic regression models to assess the relation between FI and risk of neurologic symptoms including seizures, extremity weakness, extremity numbness, tremors/ataxia, aphasia, carpal tunnel syndrome, vision dysfunction, and spinal pain.


In separate multivariate models by outcome and gender, adjusting for age and household socioeconomic status, severe FI was associated with higher odds of seizures, movement abnormalities, carpal tunnel, vision dysfunction, spinal pain, and comorbid disorders among women. Severe FI was associated with higher odds of seizures, extremity numbness, movement abnormalities, difficulty speaking, carpal tunnel, vision dysfunction, and comorbid disorders among men.


We found that FI was associated with symptoms of neurologic disorder. Given the cross-sectional nature of our study, the directionality of these associations is unclear. Future research should assess causal mechanisms relating FI to neurologic symptoms in sub-Saharan Africa.