There is significant evidence that obesity and certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are linked. Although there is debate over the nature and extent of the link, the connection is familiar and intuitive in our current understanding of health and chronic disease prevention.
In our most recent Dialogue4Health Web Forum: Food is Medicine, Integrating Food Programs Into Health Care, there was a robust conversation about how better food programming could help both prevention and management of chronic diseases. A crucial point to understanding the factors at play is that, counter-intuitively, food insecurity and obesity frequently coexist. While we tend to think that obesity is the result of an abundance of food, it is often related to a lack of choice about food. Or, as Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger says, “Hunger and obesity are often flip sides of the same coin.”
The mechanics of this apparent contradiction are clear. The Food and Research Action Center of Washington DC, sums it up by explaining:
"While all segments of the population are affected by obesity, low-income and food insecure people are especially vulnerable due to the additional risk factors associated with poverty, including limited resources, limited access to healthy and affordable foods, and limited opportunities for physical activity. Even individuals who are highly motivated can have difficulty eating healthy and being active if their environments do not support or allow such behaviors (Institute of Medicine, 2009).
In addition, households with limited resources to buy enough food often try to stretch their food budgets by purchasing cheap, energy-dense foods that are filling – meaning that they try to maximize their calories per dollar in order to stave off hunger. Those who are food insecure may also overeat when food does become available, resulting in chronic ups and downs in food intake that can contribute to weight gain. This is especially a problem for low-income women, who often restrict their food intake to protect their children from hunger."
More articles and information on this topic can be found in our resource section, and we invite you to listen to our Web Forum on Food As Medicine. We’d love your thoughts and information on this topic!