Growing insecurity leads to obesity epidemic

Updated: Jan 23, 2011, 13:47 PM IST

Washington: Researchers have suggested that the obesity epidemic is substantially due to growing insecurity, stress, and a sense of powerlessness in societies where high-sugar and high-fat foods are increasingly omnipresent.

The new research was carried by Jon D. Wisman and Kevin W. Capehart at American University in Washington, D.C.

“When I began to look into the issue of obesity, I realized that the most overweight are the least privileged members of society. And amongst those, it tended to be minorities. And amongst minorities it tended to be women. It was those people who possessed the least control over their lives, and thus suffer the greatest insecurity and stress,” said Wisman.

Stress increases the body’s production of cortisol, which augments the body’s appetite for high fat and high sugar foods. Consequently, in an environment of inexpensive and readily available high-sugar, high-fat, prepared foods, an increase in insecurity and stress can be predicted to increase weight gain and obesity in the population.

In support of this explanation, the authors point to the fact that obesity did not increase in between 1960–1980. What is striking about this period is that unemployment was relatively low and a great number of social programs were put in place that significantly reduced insecurity and stress (ie., Medicare, Medicaid, broad welfare programs, and labor protections).

According to Wisman, “The epidemic really began around 1980 when the safety nets began to fall apart. And it is going to take a serious reassessment of social organization in order to fix this situation.”