Saturday, October 31, 2015

Understanding the Connections: Food Insecurity and Obesity

This brief (pdf) from FRAC highlights recent research on food insecurity and obesity, and then explores why food insecurity and obesity can co-exist.

While food insecurity and obesity can co-exist in the same individual, family, or community, the research on whether there is a statistically significant relationship provides mixed results. A number of research studies in the U.S. and abroad have found positive associations between food insecurity and overweight or obesity. Other studies have found no relationship, or even a lower risk of overweight or obesity with food insecurity. Associations, or lack thereof, often differ by gender, age, and/or race-ethnicity. Making comparisons across studies is further complicated by differences in study design, measures of weight and food security status, and sample size and characteristics. Overall, based on several reviews of the literature, the strongest and most consistent evidence is for a higher risk of obesity among food insecure women.

That food insecurity and obesity can co-exist and are significantly associated in some studies does not necessarily mean they are causally linked to each other. Both food insecurity and obesity can be independent consequences of low income and the resulting lack of access to enough nutritious food or stresses of poverty. More specifically, obesity among food insecure people – as well as among low-income people – occurs in part because they are subject to the same often challenging cultural changes as other Americans (e.g., more sedentary lifestyles, increased portion sizes), and also because they face unique challenges in adopting and maintaining healthful behaviors, including the following:

  • Limited resources
  • Lack of access to healthy, affordable foods
  • Cycles of food deprivation and overeating
  • High levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Fewer opportunities for physical activity
  • Greater exposure to marketing of obesity-promoting products
  • Limited access to health care