This week’s headlines are dominated by a series of new papers that address red meat consumption and health. I am not going to discuss those papers in this blog post. Instead, I will speak to a series of articles published in Translational Behavioral Medicine that address the significant intersection of food insecurity, environment, economic, and dietary quality factors as they relate to obesity.
Obesity is a complex constellation of issues; I often refer to it as obesities given that complexity. Eric Calloway and colleagues from the Center for Nutrition in Omaha open the issue reflecting on the importance of the intersection and also the methodological challenges associated with conducting these kinds of studies. Dietary quality is often influenced by where you live, work, play, pray and learn- also by how much you earn. Neighbourhoods, where poverty is a historic hallmark for residents, don’t often have fully stocked grocery stores. They also have a preponderance of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores as primary sources of food for residents. In the USA tracing the history of how these neighbourhoods developed can be squarely tethered back to institutional segregation which allowed for unequal distribution of resources, and thus wealth for many citizens. Many of these policies are still echoing in these neighbourhoods today despite efforts to address poverty.
One in eight US households faces food insecurity. As a parent, you may not know where the next meal for your family is coming from; this also impacts children and is associated with more reduced dietary quality. Over the life span, this can lead to obesity and poor health. Access to healthier foods has been a focal point in policy for over a decade. Changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allow access in theory to more healthy foods to be purchased, but many local stores don’t stock a lot of fruits and vegetables. Families may have fluctuating income monthly depending on the work they can find, so this can also drive food insecurity. Critics argue that other factors must be in play given the prevalence of obesity in wealthier parts of the USA. No doubt the issues are complex; the ubiquitous availability of calorie-dense and nutritionally questionable foods creates obesogenic environments.
One thing is clear from this particular issue of Translational Behavioral Medicine, whole system multi-sectoral partnerships that have funding over time will be necessary to have a positive impact on communities most impacted by poverty, food insecurity and obesity. Short term programs without financing long-term policy changes won’t be sufficient.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)
Environmental, social, and economic factors related to the intersection of food security, dietary quality, and obesity: an introduction to a special issue of the Translational Behavioral Medicine. Eric E Calloway, Courtney A Parks, Deborah J Bowen, Amy L Yaroch Translational Behavioral Medicine, Volume 9, Issue 5, October 2019, Pages 823–826, https://doi.org/10.1093/tbm/ibz097