Low Food Security Linked to Obesity in Women, but Not in Men

Article

The relationship between food insecurity and weight appears to be paradoxical, since food insecurity is often associated with not only undernutrition and recurring hunger, but also overnutrition and obesity.

An emerging concept in the obesity literature, food security is defined as having access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets all dietary needs around the clock. The opposite concept of food insecurity occurs when access to food is limited, inadequate, or uncertain due to financial instability.

The relationship between food insecurity and weight appears to be paradoxical, since food insecurity is often associated with not only undernutrition and recurring hunger, but also overnutrition and obesity. Researchers are now examining those associations in greater detail, given that some studies have found a link between food insecurity and obesity, while others have not.

The May 2014 issue of Obesity Facts contained a study conducted by researchers at Sorbonne Universités that examined food insecurity and its potential link to obesity in metropolitan Paris. Using data from France’s Health, Inequalities and Social Ruptures (SIRS) cohort study, the authors analyzed the participants’ body mass index (BMI) and estimated food insecurity.

Among metropolitan Parisians, 10.2% met the criteria for obesity — a figure many Americans might find surprising, since they often picture French people as being thin. After adjusting for age, income, and socioeconomic status, the researchers determined women who experienced very low food security were twice as likely to be obese than those who experienced food security. However, this finding did not hold true for men.

The study authors interpreted the results to mean that very low food security impacts nutrition and may create unhealthy eating habits or force women to consume food mindless of its nutritional value as it becomes available. Additionally, they reported that women are usually the first members of the household to modify their food intake when money is tight; in doing so, women may consume more poor-quality foods and leave healthier choices for other family members.

“In times of economic crisis, it is increasingly essential to explore and understand the pathway through which very low food security is linked to obesity,” the authors concluded.

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