Nearly 23% of people with obesity in the United States have reported food insecurity, compared with 15% of people with moderate weight. This association with obesity has doubled since 1999–2000, according to a recent analysis of trends in food insecurity.

“Food insecurity” refers to a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In the West, this issue is most often due to limited financial resources.

People with low food security report concerns that food will run out before they can afford to buy more and being unable to afford balanced meals.

Internationally, food insecurity more often relates to the frequency of conflict and to climate-related failure of harvests. Very low food security is more likely to lead to reduced food intake and undernourishment.

While there are varying degrees, low food security can reduce the “quality, variety, and desirability” of a person’s diet, even in wealthy nations like the U.S. Very low food security in the U.S., for example, leads to skipping meals and the disruption of regular eating patterns.

In 2019, 10.5% of U.S. households had some level of food insecurity — 6.4% had low food security, and 4.1% had very low food security. Now, there are concerns that COVID-19 may be exacerbating this problem.

Recent Census Bureau data show that before the pandemic, 1 in 10 respondents said that they “sometimes or often did not have enough to eat.” In early March, this figure rose to 25%.

The survey respondents mentioned not having enough money to buy food or being unable to get out to buy food as reasons for the insecurity.

Food insecurity is associated with a range of negative health outcomes. For children, these include anemia, asthma, poor cognitive performance, and behavior problems. In adults, there is a higher risk of depression, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.

Meanwhile, the link between obesity and food insecurity has been a topic of debate. In 2011, a review of 42 articles concluded that while women with food insecurity were more likely to have overweight or obesity, there was no evidence that food insecurity caused weight gain over the long term.

More recently, researchers have proposed a resource scarcity hypothesis to explain the ongoing associations between food insecurity and increased weight.

According to the theory, an increased intake of inexpensive, high-calorie foods forms a cycle with skipping meals and intermittent hunger. This, in turn, leads to physiological changes that encourage the deposition of fat and decreased energy and exercise.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly worsened the situation. The country may face long-term economic and health consequences unless we solve this public health crisis,” says Dr. Myers.

Medical reference: Medical News Today