A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) explores how food insecurity affects the way adolescents and emerging adults practice intuitive eating. Intuitive eating, an approach to eating that focuses on responding to one’s hunger and fullness cues — sometimes expressed as “eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full” — is shown to decline among people living in food insecure households, according to the study.
Food insecurity is a leading public health challenge in the U.S., affecting more than 10% of U.S. households and falling disproportionately on communities of color. In addition to being associated with chronic disease and worsened mental health, previous research has shown that individuals who experience food insecurity are more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors, including binge eating.
The study, which appears in Public Health Nutrition, found:
- In the short-term, young people who experienced hunger within the last year had lower intuitive eating scores as adolescents (average age of 14) and emerging adults (average age of 22).
- Long-term, those who lived in food-insecure households in adolescence had lower intuitive eating scores in emerging adulthood.
Researchers relied on data gathered as part of SPH’s Project EAT (Eating and Activity over Time), which examines a broad spectrum of weight-related issues among a diverse group of participants from adolescence to adulthood.
“These results suggest that food insecurity has both immediate and potentially long-term impacts on one’s approach to intuitive eating,” says SPH postdoctoral research fellow Blair Burnette. “If you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from, intuitive eating may not be an option. These results lend support to mainstream concerns that intuitive eating currently may not be equally accessible to all people.”
The researchers noted that food insecurity rarely happens in isolation. Households experiencing food insecurity are often facing other social inequities and racial barriers that need to be addressed as part of efforts to remove barriers to intuitive eating.