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Inconsistent access to food in low-income households may contribute to weight gain

Boston, Mass. -- There's more to be gleaned from national health surveys than just health statistics. Not only can these data illustrate the scope of a public health problem such as obesity, but they can also provide researchers with clues about ways to intervene. Parke Wilde, PhD, a food economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and a co-author recently analyzed data from the continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally-representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans. Their findings not only confirm the seemingly counterintuitive relationship between weight and income, but suggest that, for women, the risk of weight gain over time is increased when access to food is uncertain or inconsistent.

"To my knowledge, this is the first study to focus on the association between adults' food security status and change in weight over time, using national level data," Wilde says. Household food insecurity is defined as "the lack of access to enough food for household members at all times in socially acceptable ways." Wilde believes this research may have implications for federal food assistance and nutrition programs designed to improve nutrition and household food security for low-income Americans.

The team analyzed NHANES data from 1999 to 2002, accounting for factors that might influence both weight and food security status, such as income, race/ethnicity, education level, and health status. Survey respondents were classified into four levels of household food security, ranging from fully food secure to food insecure with hunger. With the exception of those living in households with the most severe level of food insecurity, women in food-insecure households were approximately 50 percent more likely to be obese and to gain at least 10 pounds in one year, compared with women in fully food-secure households. These relationships were similar for men, but not as pronounced as
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Contact: Siobhan Gallagher
617-636-6586
Tufts University
23-May-2006


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