William Eichler 10 November 2020

Food poverty linked to mental and physical distress

New research has revealed that people who have experienced food poverty are more likely to live with obesity and suffer from increased levels of physical and mental distress.

Researchers from the University of Salford and the University of Liverpool carried out interviews at food charities in the North West of England, alongside online questionnaires completed by over 600 participants.

They found higher physical and mental distress among people who had experienced limited access to food over the past year. Where people reported turning to food as a way of coping, they also tended to have a higher body mass index (BMI).

According to the researchers, this work highlights that it is not just the availability of low cost foods that is driving weight gain but that the psychological burden of food poverty is also important.

The United Nations estimates that between 6-9% of the UK population currently experience food poverty. This number appears to be growing, with the Trussell Trust, the largest UK food bank, reporting a 74% increase in food parcels provided over the last five years.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated the situation, with The Food Foundation reporting that 1.5 million UK adults struggled to obtain food during the first lockdown and 53% of NHS staff were concerned about how they would feed themselves.

Dr Greg Keenan, one of the authors of the study and lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford, commented: ‘Food poverty and obesity are both urgent issues that need addressing and this research suggests they are strongly interlinked. Improving food security for vulnerable individuals could indirectly help tackle the obesity crisis and improve both physical and mental health.’

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