The Paradox of Food Insecurity, Yo-Yo Diets, and Obesity in the U.S.

It seems that the obesity discussion far too often leans toward over-consumption of food and calorie balance (I’m personally guilty of that…)

But we’re not talking enough about the links between food insecurity (i.e. hunger) and obesity.

This new article in JAMA highlights the issue well in plain English. It also has references to top organizations, such as FRAC, that are trying to bring the latest research into the forefront.

Many people who are overweight now believe that years of yo-yo dieting has contributed to excess weight gain. It seems science is catching up to real life experiences as mounting evidence supports over/under consumption cycles and weight gain. Researchers believe that food insecurity yields a similar inconsistent food consumption pattern and hence a “hunger and obesity paradox”.

It is quite perplexing. America is a developed country. Food is cheap. Yet people go hungry.

Here’s an excerpt:

In adults, food insecurity has been associated with type 2 diabetes (Seligman HK et al. J Gen Intern Med. 2007;22[7]:1018-1023). “Patients with diabetes require special diets, and yet the ability to be consistent with those special diets was compromised by food insecurity,” said Mark Nord, PhD, of the Food Assistance Branch at the Economic Research Service of the USDA.

Food insecurity also has been linked to overweight and obesity, particularly among women (Townsend MS et al. J Nutr. 2001;131[6]:1738-1745; Wilde PE and Peterman JN. J Nutr. 2006;136[5]:1395-1400). This apparent paradox may be explained by the fact that high-calorie, processed foods often are less expensive than fresh, perishable foods such as fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.

“One of the first food groups that’s cut out of an impoverished person’s diet is produce,” explained David H. Holben, PhD, RD, of the School of Human and Consumer Sciences, at Ohio University, in Athens. “Generally speaking, they often choose high-fat, high-sugar, low-cost foods that taste good,” he added. Re searchers have found that marketing can also influence consumers, who are bombarded with advertising for unhealthful food and receive inadequate nutritional information, especially in restaurants (Hayne CL et al. J Public Health Policy. 2004;25[3-4]:391-407).

Food insecurity can also set up a scenario in which access to food is inconsistent, leading to periods of underconsumption followed by compensatory overconsumption. “There’s good evidence that yo-yo dieting is associated with a higher risk of overweight and obesity, and it leads people to wonder if involuntary boom and bust cycles in food intake could also be associated,” said Parke Wilde, PhD, of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in Boston.