Food Insecurity + Obesity = Paradox

Most of the research we’ve led over the years relates to obesity management and prevention. However, working with colleagues and trainees in nutrition, a parallel stream of research has focused on food insecurity (FI), a phenomenon that is broadly defined as ‘economic and social conditions that lead to inadequate or uncertain access to quality food’. This week, a new publication showed how these two areas can converge.

Based at a pediatric weight management clinic in Minnesota, researchers (pdf below) measured food insecurity among families (n=116) enrolled in care, finding that (1) ~25% of families met their definition of FI and (2) ~33% were eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through a community-based food bank. Interestingly, only 8% (or 3 families) ended up completing the SNAP enrollment process.

A few ‘take home’ points:

1. FI may be more common than we think among families enrolled in pediatric weight management. As done in this study, the use of a valid and reliable measure of FI provides an objective assessment that is likely superior to clinicians’ anecdotal impressions.

2. FI is linked with a number of social and economic factors (e.g., race/ethnicity, family income, education, stigma), so while it’s easy to measure FI, helping families to address FI effectively is a more complex undertaking that requires effective and sensitive communication, collaboration, and rapport between families and clinicians.

3. The value of having a multi-disciplinary, weight management team whose members have a range of experiences and expertise (e.g., social worker, nutrition, psychology, pediatric medicine) is needed to support families who present with FI and obesity. This helps to ensure that families receive the best services possible to meet their most pressing health needs, which may include weight management, but also other pressing issues such as accessing acceptable and healthy foods on a consistent basis.


CO and FI – J Pediatr Health Care, 2016

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