Food insecurity a standalone risk factor for diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on May 28, 2018

People who cannot afford to eat a healthy diet have more than double the average risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

Those who live in households that have food insecurity, defined as having uncertain or insufficient food access due to limited financial resources, tend to rely on cheaper, high calorie foods that contribute to weight gain and the risk of chronic disease, the research says.

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The study of households in Ontario, Canada, by researchers from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, concludes that food insecurity is a stand-alone risk factor for diabetes.

‘Even after adjusting for other factors that have also been linked to the development of diabetes like obesity, smoking and alcohol use, food insecurity was found to increase one’s risk of developing diabetes,’ said Laura Rosella, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

The researchers believe that the findings underscore the importance of addressing poverty when designing policies and programmes to reduce the growth of type 2 diabetes, one of the most common chronic conditions, not just in Canada, but globally.

The study analysed data from a 2004 national health survey, focussing on 4,739 men and women over age 18, including 277 who were classified as food insecure. The researchers also matched these people to a national database of people diagnosed with diabetes through 2016, making for an average of nearly 12 years of follow-up.

People who were food insecure at the time of the original survey tended to be younger, female, non-white, lower in income and had lower quality diets compared to food secure individuals. Food insecure adults were also more likely to be smokers, less physically active and obese.

By the end of the follow-up period, some 577 participants had developed type 2 diabetes. Those who were food-insecure had 2.4 times the risk of those who were not. When researchers accounted for obesity, the diabetes risk was still two fold higher with food insecurity.

According to Christopher Tait, the study’s lead author, more efforts are needed to meaningfully address the broader systemic factors that shape food environments, access and availability. He added that the study demonstrates the need to monitor food insecurity more regularly and comprehensively.

There have been calls across various nations for healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat milk, lean cuts of meat and low sodium foods to be subsidised as a measure to prevent the increasing incidence of diabetes type 2 and to support diabetes control among patients.

It is well know that health foods, including fruit and vegetables can be more expensive than ready prepared and fast food.

‘Given the mounting evidence regarding adverse health risks associated with food insecurity in the Canadian population, allowing for its routine assessment to be optional is an incredible missed opportunity,’ said Tait.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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