How food deprivation in childhood may be linked to obesity

Categories: School of Health and Society

As energy prices rise and the cost of living goes up, it is estimated that there are 4 million children from poorer households who have limited or uncertain access to healthy food.

Khizra Tariq, a PhD student in the School of Health and Society, has written a piece for The Conversation discussing her research on how food insecurity during childhood affects eating behaviours and may lead to obesity.

Khizra says: “A 2017 study found that children between the age of eight and ten from homes that do not have easy access to healthy food are five times more likely to be obese compared to those from households that have enough food.

“The study, which looked at 50 mothers and their children, found that children in households where food scarcity is a problem ate food when they were not hungry and were more likely to eat five or more snacks per day. The theory is that people who do not have ready access to food eat more to store energy when they do have food, to avoid hunger in the future when food is scarce.

“The emotional toll of a childhood living in poverty may also lead to obesity due to overeating to cope with stress – known as ‘emotional eating’. Children who learn to use food to soothe or make themselves feel better could then continue this habit throughout their lives when dealing with stress.

Research carried out at the University of Salford found that that food insecurity was associated with a poorer diet, and that greater distress and eating to cope was linked with higher BMI.

“This research was conducted with adults rather than looking at the childhood causes of obesity. But it suggests that psychological distress and subsequent emotional eating is a pathway that links poverty with obesity.

“In the UK, 29% of men and 27% of women are obese. This rate will be higher in the coming years if more is not done to protect children living in poverty.”

You can read Khizra’s article in full here

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