Food Insecurity and Obesity What’s: The Connection?

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Many people are surprised to find that food insecurity and obesity can co-exist in the same individual, family, or community. Yet the truth is that food insecurity can make people more vulnerable to hunger as well as obesity. The budget constraints that low-income households face (due to low wages, involuntary part-time or part-year work, job loss, unemployment, illness, or inadequate public income supports) often lead to hunger.

What is food insecurity?

The definition of food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. It may be limited access to healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. Food insecurity is a serious public health issue in the United States today. According to the 2010 data 14.5% Americans were food insecure (~50 million persons), meaning that they were, uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough nutritious food (Gundersen, 2013).

Obesity, on the other hand, is an issue which impacts us all. Because of more sedentary lifestyles, fewer opportunities for physical activity among children and adults, the increased availability of tempting high-calorie, fatty, and sugary foods, our diets and physical activity levels are far from optimal. However, low income people are especially vulnerable to obesity, due to the additional risk factors associated with food insecurity.

Food insecurity and obesity are both consequences of economic and social disadvantage. Food insecurity and obesity are positively associated in children, and adults especially in women (Adams, Grummer-strawn, Chavez 2003).

It is harmful for children, being associated with behavior problems, disturbed social interactions, ruined school function and attendance, unhealthy food intake and physical activity, altered daily activities, and poor health. Some of these outcomes increase the risk of developing obesity. From life course cumulative inequality, and developmental perspectives, food insecurity may have long-term effects, including on risk of obesity (Kaur, Lamb, Ogden, 2015).

Risk Factors for Obesity Associated with Food Insecurity

Photo from Food Research and Action Center

  • Low-income of people are undeserved by full-service supermarket
  • Low-income people frequently lacks full-service grocery stores and farmers’ markets where people can buy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Instead, people in the community often are limited to shopping at small convenience stores, where healthy foods are limited, if available at all (Hossfeld, Mendez, 2018).

When available, healthy food are more expensive.

  • The price of healthy foods is also a factor for many low-income households, these items often are significantly more expensive.
  • Low-income families that are trying to stretch their dollars may be forced to buy cheaper, unhealthy processed foods in order to make their budget last.

There are only few opportunities for physical activity in neighborhoods and schools

  • Low-income people often have few safe or attractive places to play or be physically active. Open space good park, sidewalk, and fields- is at a minimum, and recreational facilities often are inadequate.
  • Sports centers are also typically less available to low-income children

High level of stress and limited to access to health care can contribute to weight gain (Junne and colleagues, 2017, June 10)

  • Food insecurity may be a stressor that disordered eating, reduced physical activity, and depression, all of which may be related to weight gain
  • Several studies have shown an association between depression in mothers and children and the development of obesity.

Food Insecurity and Obesity are Connected

Photo from Canadians Women Health Network

  •  The connections between food insecurity and obesity are related to the way’s households must manage their limited resources for food in order to stave off hunger.

Mothers that sacrifice their own nutrition in order to protect their children from hunger can find themselves in a “feast or famine” situation, which may contribute to obesity (National and Metabolic Diseases and Conditions, 2017, June 10). Food deprivation can cause a preoccupation with food and can also result in women overeating at those times when they have adequate amounts of food. In addition, because foods that contains more on refined grains, sugar, and fat cost less than fresh products.

  • Industrial food processing is playing a role in shaping global food systems, supplies, and thus dietary patterns worldwide.

The food environment has evolved along with the pandemic of overweight and obesity, and the influence of the food environment remains underappreciated (Frongillo, Bernal, 2014, December). The food supplies of urban settings in low-income and middle-income individuals, and even rural areas of many middle-income families increasingly consist of food products that are mass-produced, branded, processed, and heavily advertised.

These industrial products include mass-produced and inexpensive breads, buns, cakes, breakfast cereals, cookies and biscuits, candies, sweetened fruit preserves, syrups, condensed milk, soft drinks and other beverages with high sugar content, meat lard, cheese, and other dairy products (Frongillo, Bernal, 2014, December). Because of affordable prices, these ready to eat and convenient foods and drinks are selectively eaten by the socially disadvantage people.

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