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Unhealthy Diet Helps Explain Association Between Food Insecurity and Obesity

Newswise — There is a greater prevalence of obesity and higher body fat among people who face food insecurity, according to research being presented Sunday at ENDO 2022, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

Lisa L. Morselli, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisc., and colleagues, investigated if an unhealthy diet could explain the impact of food insecurity on weight and body fat measures.

“Food insecure individuals have higher body fat despite eating as many calories as those who are food secure,” Morselli said. “While some of this effect is explained by aspects of diet, other non-diet-related factors must play a role as well.”

Researchers utilized data from the 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 5,821 adults. They examined BMI, waist circumference and fat mass data. Morselli and the team also used the 10-item NHANES Food Security Survey Module to assess food insecurity, 24-hour food recalls for nutrition information, and Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI) to determine food quality.

Results show 18% of participants faced food insecurity. Those with food insecurity had higher rates of obesity, greater body fat and waist circumference. They ate a similar number of calories per day compared with people who were not food insecure. However, the overall quality of their diet was poorer than their counterparts.

The amount of calories and fat consumed each day, as well as overall diet quality, were to blame for some of the association between food insecurity, body fat and waist circumference. Dietary factors, however, did not explain why BMI was greater among people with food insecurity. These results suggest that people facing food insecurity may be able to store calories as fat better than those who are not food insecure.

“Other factors such as stress, discrimination, poor sleep, unstable housing or employment likely play a role in the increased risk of obesity associated with food insecurity. Therefore, measures to combat the adverse health consequences of food insecurity should include interventions to improve both diet quality and the overall living environment,” Morselli said.

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