Nav: Home

Food insecurity in young adults raises risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma

October 01, 2019

A paradox of food insecurity in wealthy countries is its association with excess weight. Now, a study led by researchers at UC San Francisco finds that young adults in the United States who are food insecure not only are slightly more likely to be obese, they are significantly more likely to suffer from disorders associated with high body mass index, as well as obstructive airway diseases like asthma.

In the study, which tracked close to 15,000 young adults who were representative of their peers nationwide, the researchers found that 1,647 (11 percent) were food insecure, defined as lacking "sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets individuals' dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life."

The study appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine on Oct. 1, 2019.

The researchers, led by first author Jason Nagata, MD, of the UCSF Department of Pediatrics, found a 7 percent difference between the two groups in the incidence of obesity: 36 percent of the food-secure group versus 43 percent for the food-insecure cohort.

Cyclic Nature of Food Insecurity May Promote Diabetes

But when the researchers looked at the rate of diabetes among the 14,786 participants, who were aged between 24 and 32, they found that more than twice as many in the food-insecure group -- 5.1 percent compared with 2.2 percent -- said that they had been told by a medical provider that they had diabetes.

"The cyclic nature of food insecurity, reflective of monthly paychecks and food assistance, may promote insulin resistance, due to alternating periods of food abundance and food shortage," said Nagata. Other factors that may play a role in diabetes include the consumption of cheaper, calorie-dense foods with a high content of fats and carbohydrates, and a low intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, he said.

The food-insecure group was also more likely to report that they had been told by a medical provider that they had high blood pressure: 16 percent versus 11 percent for the food-secure participants.

"Chronic stress from food insecurity may contribute to insulin resistance, obesity and high blood pressure," said senior author Sheri Weiser, MD, of the UCSF Department of Medicine. "Stress can activate the neuro-endocrine system and stimulate the release of glucocorticoids, which can alter metabolism, lead to increased fat accumulation and storage, and amplify binge-eating behavior."

Stress Linked to Inflammation, a Factor in Asthma

Stress also plays a role in asthma, as well as other obstructive airway diseases like chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Among the food-secure group, 14 percent said they had been told by a medical provider that they had at least one of these conditions, compared with 21 percent of the food-insecure participants.

The higher rate of smoking in the food-insecure group (46 percent versus 28 percent) may partially explain the disparity between the two groups, but stress is believed to lead to greater inflammation, which is implicated in asthma and asthma exacerbations, the authors noted. Additionally, food insecurity may lead to increased susceptibility to infections, which may boost the risk for asthma and bronchitis, they said.

A second study, also led by Nagata, found that the same cohort of food-insecure young adults was at higher risk for mental health issues compared to their food-secure peers. Some 15 percent of the food-secure group had a depression diagnosis, compared with 29 percent for the food-insecure participants. A suicide attempt within the past 12 months was reported by 1.3 percent of the food-secure group, versus 3.6 percent for the food-insecure participants. Diagnoses for anxiety or panic disorder, and difficulties falling and staying asleep were also significantly higher among the food-insecure young adults.
The second study publishes Oct. 1, 2019, in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Co-authors: Kartika Palar, PhD, Andrea Garber, PhD, RD, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD of UCSF; and Holly Gooding, MD, of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Funding: The study was supported by grants from the University of California Global Food Initiative Fellowship, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pediatric Society and the Norman Schlossberger Research Fund from UCSF. The authors report no conflicts of interest.

About UCSF: The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. UCSF Health, which serves as UCSF's primary academic medical center, includes top-ranked specialty hospitals and other clinical programs, and has affiliations throughout the Bay Area. Learn more at, or see our Fact Sheet.

University of California - San Francisco

Related Diabetes Articles:

Tele-diabetes to manage new-onset diabetes during COVID-19 pandemic
Two new case studies highlight the use of tele-diabetes to manage new-onset type 1 diabetes in an adult and an infant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Genetic profile may predict type 2 diabetes risk among women with gestational diabetes
Women who go on to develop type 2 diabetes after having gestational, or pregnancy-related, diabetes are more likely to have particular genetic profiles, suggests an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions.
Maternal gestational diabetes linked to diabetes in children
Children and youth of mothers who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk of diabetes themselves, according to new research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Two diabetes medications don't slow progression of type 2 diabetes in youth
In youth with impaired glucose tolerance or recent-onset type 2 diabetes, neither initial treatment with long-acting insulin followed by the drug metformin, nor metformin alone preserved the body's ability to make insulin, according to results published online June 25 in Diabetes Care.
People with diabetes visit the dentist less frequently despite link between diabetes, oral health
Adults with diabetes are less likely to visit the dentist than people with prediabetes or without diabetes, finds a new study led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine.
Diabetes, but not diabetes drug, linked to poor pregnancy outcomes
New research indicates that pregnant women with pre-gestational diabetes who take metformin are at a higher risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes -- such as major birth defects and pregnancy loss -- than the general population, but their increased risk is not due to metformin but diabetes.
New oral diabetes drug shows promise in phase 3 trial for patients with type 1 diabetes
A University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus study finds sotagliflozin helps control glucose and reduces the need for insulin in patients with type 1 diabetes.
Can continuous glucose monitoring improve diabetes control in patients with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin
Two studies in the Jan. 24/31 issue of JAMA find that use of a sensor implanted under the skin that continuously monitors glucose levels resulted in improved levels in patients with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin multiple times a day, compared to conventional treatment.
Complications of type 2 diabetes affect quality of life, care can lead to diabetes burnout
T2D Lifestyle, a national survey by Health Union of more than 400 individuals experiencing type 2 diabetes (T2D), reveals that patients not only struggle with commonly understood complications, but also numerous lesser known ones that people do not associate with diabetes.
A better way to predict diabetes
An international team of researchers has discovered a simple, accurate new way to predict which women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes after delivery.
More Diabetes News and Diabetes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at