Nutrition 2024: Keeping People Guessing About Food Security

The Bread CarrierIn dealing with health policy related to obesity for nearly two decades, the stubborn persistence of health disparities has been one of the most frustrating issues. On the opening day of Nutrition 2024, an impressive series of new studies reminded us of an important contributor to those disparities. Keeping people guessing about their food security is a problem. It is a big problem when people are not sure from day to day where they’ll get their next meal.

The common theme across all of these studies was the importance of stress as a mediator between food insecurity and health disparities

A Link to Weight

Muzi Na presented data from a study of food insufficiency, SNAP participation, and nutrition status in a 10-year longitudinal study. She and her colleagues from Penn State found:

“Food insecurity experience, particularly when repeated over time, increases the variability of nutritional status in older adults. Among eligible older adults, SNAP alone may not be sufficient to prevent substantial changes in BMI, weight, or waist circumference over time. Additional interventions are needed to stabilize nutritional status, which is critical for healthy aging and better health outcomes.”

The Issue of Stress

In sum, all six of the presenters touched upon the issue of stress as a mediating factor for poor health outcomes in people who find themselves guessing about their food security. In particular, Shalean Collins presented a study of food insecurity, stress, and intimate partner violence in relationship to health disparities. To illustrate the stress that food insecurities can create, she quoted one of her subjects:

“I feel like a crappy parent sometimes when it gets to times like that – when I’m running low on food and have to count on other people to help me.”

In her study of food and nutrition variables associated with food insecurity, Jessica Thomson found, surprisingly, that processed and fast food utilization predicted less food insecurity.

Conventional Wisdom

So we wonder about the wisdom of public health strategies that rely upon pressuring people (through taxes or admonition) to eat the foods that policymakers deem desirable. It might be worth considering that some of these policies could actually add to psychological and financial stresses and contribute to a relationship between food insecurity and obesity. Certainly, this goes against conventional wisdom. But sometimes, conventional wisdom is wrong.

Click here, here, and here for further perspective in recent studies.

The Bread Carrier, painting by Pablo Picasso / WikiArt

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June 30, 2024