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Stress driven by economic insecurity and food abundance blamed for obesity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers investigating obesity in America, suggest economic insecurity and easy access to high calorie and fat foods are the culprit.

Jon D. Wisman and Kevin W. Capehart at American University in Washington, D.C. believe the continual pursuit of economic security in America and resultant stress that raises cortisol could help explain America's obesity epidemic.

Wisman and Capehart say calorie intake and expenditure only partly explain why obesity has become so prevalent.

“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.

The researchers propose it is a sense of powerlessness and insecurity that creates stress, driving high-sugar and high-fat food consumption and thus obesity rates.

The authors note previous attempts to explain obesity rates have failed. They note the "Big Two" contributors of calorie intake versus calorie expenditure as consistently being blamed for expanding waistlines. They also note, for the first time in history, there are more overweight adults than underweight worldwide and that obesity rates have doubled since 1980.

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When it comes to consuming more calories, the researchers say food is cheaper and incomes are higher. Regarding calorie expenditure, they cite technology such as remote controls, less physically demanding jobs and inactivity as contributors to obesity. However, that only partly explains the dilemma.

Wisman and Capehart found evidence doesn't support the "Big Two" for completely explaining why obesity rates have doubled since 1980, during a time of high economic insecurity and unemployment.

According to Wisman, “The (obesity) epidemic really began around 1980 when the safety nets began to fall apart", such as Medicaid, Medicare and welfare programs and labor protections, "and it is going to take a serious reassessment of social organization in order to fix this situation.”

As societies become more modern, obesity increases. Wisman and Capehart contend obesity is the result of a society in pursuit of Capitalistic gains but facing economic insecurities. They say obesity is a symptom of the pursuit of maximum economic growth in the presence of material abundance.

Stress raises cortisol levels that in turn increases appetite. The researchers say obesity is an expected result of the presence of an abundance of high fat and high calorie foods, economic stress and the pursuit of economic growth.

AU Media