food insecurity binge eating

Study Says Food Insecurity May Trigger Binge Eating

The International Journal of Eating Disorders has published the results of a survey suggesting persons suffering from food insecurity or perceived food insecurity were more likely to also suffer from a binge eating disorder or a related disorder.

For the purposes of the study, the standing DSM-5 definition of binge eating disorder was used. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual describes binge eating disorder as “a condition in which one experiences recurrent episodes of overeating accompanied with a perceived inability to control their dietary behaviors.”

Diving into Binge Eating through Surveys

The researchers conducted a random survey of 1,250 participants via an online form. In it, they used a list of questions about household income, body measurements, perceptions about their bodies, eating habits and food security.

The survey asked whether or not respondents had ever experienced or believed they had experienced an inability to obtain nutritious food. The survey was designed to determine whether or not respondents believed perceived food insecurity resulted in a risk to their health.

Out of the 1,250 respondents, 710 were classified as having a healthy body mass index, and 455 were classified as overweight. 85 respondents were classified as having a binge eating disorder, and 156 reported feeling or having felt that they were unable to obtain a nutritious meal.

Overall, just over 33% of the respondents met the criteria to be classified as suffering from food insecurity.

It has long been observed in animals and humans that whenever food scarcity presents itself – either in reality or as a perception – binge eating is a common response.

In animals, binge eating is more or less the norm.

Even most domesticated animals will eat as much as is placed in front of them, or to the point of abdominal discomfort.

In humans, modern advances in food production have had little effect on the instincts that guide our eating behavior. However, binge eating is credibly attributable to a number of factors such as food addiction, trauma, and poverty.

Over the years, many doctors and dietitians have argued that nutritionally poor food leaves a person feeling unsatisfied. Since the mid-90s, data has been adding up suggesting that the impulse to continue eating is more connected to the intake of the right nutrients more than to fullness.

Reasoning from there, it’s easy to see why a person with a nutrient-poor diet would tend to eat more.

Add to this, the effect that food scarcity or perceived food scarcity would have on a population. Most Americans have some tendency to overeat on occasion. However, those with a chronic perception of food scarcity would feel more stress, more fear, and have a stronger drive to eat in larger volumes.

In the final analysis…

It would seem plausible that providing smaller portions of nutrient-dense food could lead to less binge eating at a comparable production cost to larger amounts of nutrient-poor food.

While the cost differential may be small, (more study would be required to determine that), the savings in healthcare expenditures would almost certainly make a big difference in the lives of those who feel they can scarcely afford nutritious food.

If correct, the payoff for the health of Americans would be enormous, saving time, money, and lives.


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About the Author

Isaiah Chapman