Thorkild I. A. Sørensen, a Copenhagen University professor and researcher at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research and the Danish Obesity Research Center, is launching a new study on the links between obesity and social insecurity.
And he’s got plenty of evidence already showing that increasing economic disparity adds inches to the waistline.
From the Copenhagen Post:
“If you examine the scientific literature carefully and look at people’s diets and how active they are, you can’t see that either has an influence on the development of obestity,” Sørensen told Information newspaper. “There are no numbers that show that obesity is caused by eating too much and exercising too little.”
While it has long been understood that a range of factors affect a person’s risk of becoming obese, such as genetic predisposition and social status, Sørensen’s theory is that obesity is a reaction to social or psychological insecurity.
“Social inequality seems to be the crucial element. The worse your social standing, the more insecure you are about your future. You can therefore make the link between food insecurity and obesity. In the US, obesity is closely linked to living in conditions that lead to food insecurity.”
Sørensen pointed to Oxford University researchers Stanley Ulijaszek and Avner Offer, who also claim obesity can be tied to public policy. Their research, he said, links welfare cuts in the US in the 1970s the UK in the 1980s to a rise in obesity in both countries.
That’s not the only evidence of the poverty/obesity link. Consider this from a report by The Economist appearing in the 19 February edition:
Paradoxically, malnutrition can also cause obesity later in life. In the womb and during the first couple of years, the body adjusts to a poor diet by squirrelling away whatever it can as fat (an energy reserve). It never loses its acquired metabolism. This explains the astronomical obesity rates in countries that have switched from poor to middle-income status. In Mexico, for instance, obesity was almost unknown in 1980. Now 30% of Mexican adults are clinically obese and 70% are overweight. These are among the highest rates in the world, almost as bad as in America. India has an obesity epidemic in cities, as people eat more processed food and adopt more sedentary lifestyles. And with obesity will come new diseases such as diabetes and heart disease—as if India did not have enough diseases to worry about.
And this, from The Bariatric Surgery Resource:
According to the Census Bureau, the poverty rate of the U.S. increased to 14.3 in 2009, which is the highest since 1994. In 2009, 43.6 million Americans were living below the poverty line, which means they were earning just $21,954 per year for a family of four. And the poorest states, it has been shown, happen to be the most obese. For example, Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state, has obesity rates over 33 percent and the poverty rates are over 20 percent.
A study by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looked at these rates across the country. It showed that more than 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese. For those who earn at least $50,000 per year, the rates go down to 24.6 percent.
Finally, here’s an excellent documentary from HBO aired in May as part of a series, The Weight of The Nation:
Finally, consider this, reported last October by the University of Chicago:
Low-income women with children who move from high-poverty to lower-poverty neighborhoods experience notable long-term improvements in some aspects of their health, namely reductions in diabetes and extreme obesity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Chicago and partner institutions.
The study was the first to employ a randomized experimental design — akin to a randomized clinical trial used to test the efficacy of new drugs — to learn about the connections between neighborhood poverty and health. The study was published Oct. 20 in the New England Journal of Medicine in a special article, “Neighborhoods, Obesity and Diabetes — A Randomized Social Experiment.” The lead author for the collaboration was Jens Ludwig, the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy at UChicago.