Hungry yet obese (America week)

A study by Oxford University and Harvard Medical School looked at the weight of rough sleepers in Boston:

Researchers examined the body mass index (BMI) data of 5,632 homeless men and women in Boston, and found that nearly one-third of them were obese. They used the medical electronic records at 80 hospital and shelter sites for the homeless in Boston, using data from the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, one of the largest adult homeless study populations reported to date.

They found that just 1.6% of the homeless in the sample could be classed as ‘underweight’. Morbid obesity – where people are 50%-100% above their ideal body weight – was three times more common with 5.6% of homeless adults classed as morbidly obese.

As Wired explains:

The findings are the latest and most dramatic illustration of what’s called the “hunger-obesity paradox,” a term coined in 2005 by neurophysiologist Lawrence Scheier to describe the simultaneous presence of hunger and obesity.

Around that time, a vernacular sea change occurred, with “hunger” and its connotations of starvation replaced by “food insecure,” a term more descriptive of people who might consume enough raw calories but not enough nutrients.

The paradox fit with a general modern relationship in the United States between weight and wealth. Whereas obesity was once a sign of wealth, it now tracks with poverty. The poorer and less food-secure people are, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese.

Thus the waistlines of America’s homeless are indicative of the part that poverty has played in making the US into the most obese nations on earth. There is a clear correlation between obesity and inequality. Eating healthily has become too expensive for many of the poorest Americans: between 2007 and 2011 the price of the healthiest foods increased at around twice the rate of energy-dense junk food. And what is more, many of the poorest neighbourhoods – and in fact 10% of the country – lie in ‘food deserts’ which are “urban census tracts where a significant proportion of people live more than a mile away from a grocery store and rural tracts where they live more than 10 miles away.”


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