A new study conducted by researchers from Washington State University explored the long-term health risks associated with food insecurity. According to their findings, young adults who struggled to get enough food were more likely to develop diabetes and obesity within 10 years than those without food security issues.
“When we look at the data 10 years later, we do see this separation in prevalence of diabetes: those that experienced risk of food insecurity at young adulthood are more likely to have diabetes in middle adulthood,” said researcher Cassandra Nguyen.
Long-term health risks
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 4,000 people enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Participants received medical exams at the start of the study to get a baseline assessment of body mass index scores and their risk for diabetes. They also reported on other important factors, such as the risk of food insecurity, social demographics, and overall health and wellness.
The researchers ultimately identified a link between food insecurity and long-term health risks. Participants between the ages of 24 and 32 who were worried about having enough food at any point within the last year were more likely to develop obesity and diabetes by middle adulthood.
The team didn’t notice any higher or lower risk of disease among different racial or ethnic groups. However, they explained that food insecurity may make consumers more likely to follow unhealthier diets, which increases the risk for higher BMIs and diabetes.
“Eating according to the dietary guidelines tends to cost more money, and it may cost more time,” Nguyen said. “It’s not always accessible to households that have limitations such as transportation to sources of lower cost, nutritionally dense food.”
Moving forward, the researchers say consumers need to be educated about the resources available to those struggling with food security, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“It’s really important to ensure that individuals who are experiencing food insecurity are able to be identified and that they have resources made available to them to be able to break the cycle,” Nguyen said.