March 1, 2016

Researchers Point to Another Link Between Childhood Poverty and Adult Obesity

The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog recently reported on a study that examined the relationship between childhood poverty and adult obesity. According to the blog, the researchers were seeking an explanation for the high prevalence of obesity among poor populations, and through three different experiments, found a correlation between childhood socioeconomic status and ability to regulate food and calorie intake as an adult. In one of the experiments, 31 female participants were provided cookies and pretzels to snack on as they pleased. Those who had grown up in low income households ate the snacks regardless of their level of hunger, while those who grew up in higher income households generally ate when they were hungry and declined snacks when they were full.

The researchers, based on the results of their studies, suggest that growing up in poverty may lead to a type of conditioning, which the blog explains as follows: “For those who never had to worry about a meal, foregoing a snack is no big deal—it's an afterthought. But for those who did, it could mean the difference between a good night's sleep and hours awake in bed.” Thus, as one researcher noted, a child learns to eat based on opportunity, not on hunger.

The study notes that the findings do not demonstrate a causal link between childhood socioeconomic insecurity and inability to moderate food intake, but the “research contributes to a growing literature on life-history theory, which indicates that people’s early life environments play an important role in calibrating their developmental pathways . . . and may have implications for their health and disease risk in adulthood.”

Click here to read the full study.