There is a great connection between obesity and hunger. Not only are low-income people subject to the same dietetic issues as other Americans (such as increasing portion sizes and less active lifestyles), they also are presented with their own challenges unique to food insecure individuals.
States with the highest rates of food insecurity also have some of the highest rates of obesity in the country. This seems counter-intuitive, but obesity rates are influenced by much more than simply overeating. The following are only a few:
Limited access to healthy foods can lead to increased obesity. Areas with little access to healthy and fresh foods are called food deserts, and there are plenty of them in the United States. Often, low-income neighborhoods do not have a variety of healthy, affordable food choices. There may even be a lack of natural food sources altogether. Convenience store food is more expensive and higher in fat and calories, but in food deserts they might be the only place to buy groceries.
Even where food is not scarce, low-income people often purchase cheap, shelf-stable foods because they are dense and keep their families fuller longer. These foods are usually very high in fat and calories, and are not as healthy. High fast food consumption has been associated with higher rates of obesity, and low-income neighborhoods tend to have more fast food restaurants. They provide quick and cheap meals that are filling, but they are also not as healthy.
Low-income families do not get as much physical activity as higher income families, and there are several reasons this is often the case. First, low-income neighborhoods often do not have recreational areas because they lack the funds to build playgrounds and parks and keep them maintained. There may also be safety concerns in the neighborhood, from higher crime rates to unsafe playground equipment, and these individuals often lack money or transportation to go elsewhere to exercise. Finally, low-income individuals may also lack motivation to be physically active because of stress and higher rates of depression.
Low-income individuals are statistically more likely to be stressed than their higher income counterparts. Food insecure individuals often do not know where their next meal is coming from, or when it will be. Imagine the stress of that fact for just one day; it is something many Americans face. Stress from this kind of lifestyle can change the way your body stores and uses fat. Individuals with chronic stress store more fat and burn fewer calories. While food insecurity is a major source of stress, many other stressful situations particularly affect food insecure people, including low paying jobs, lack of health care, poor housing conditions, and high risk neighborhoods.
Michelle Obama takes on Food Deserts - New York Times
Obesity Statistics - CDC
Childhood obesity and neighborhood food-store availability in an Inner-City community - Academic Pediatrics
Low-income populations and physical activity - Active Living By Design
Cortisol connection - University of New Mexico research study
Can stress cause weight gain? - WebMD