December 5, 2022—On this Large 3 Q&A, Cindy Leung, assistant professor of public well being diet at Harvard T.H. Chan Faculty of Public Well being, discusses a current paper she co-authored linking meals insecurity and meals habit, in addition to her different analysis efforts. 

Q: Inform us about your current research and the attention-grabbing findings round meals insecurity.

A: Meals insecurity is a socioeconomic situation of restricted entry to inexpensive and wholesome meals. In my prior analysis, I discovered that individuals experiencing meals insecurity usually tend to have poorer high quality diets and are at greater danger for power situations. Meals habit is a more moderen paradigm the place we’re seeing experiences of withdrawal and different signs just like these, for instance, of alcohol abuse, because of consuming extremely processed meals. Realizing that extremely processed meals are plentiful in low-income neighborhoods, we questioned if people who find themselves meals insecure could be extra weak to meals habit.

In two totally different samples—considered one of low-income pregnant girls within the San Francisco Bay space, and one other of moms of preadolescent kids in southeast Michigan—we discovered a constant and vital optimistic affiliation between meals insecurity and meals habit, even after adjusting for sociodemographic elements like schooling, race/ethnicity, and revenue stage.

In our research, we couldn’t tease aside the mechanisms behind this hyperlink, however I consider that stress and ubiquitous entry to extremely processed meals are huge elements. Meals insecurity is a supply of power stress—a relentless cognitive course of to handle one’s meals sources in relation to the household’s meals wants. This power stress might alter the reward system to overconsume extremely processed meals, growing the danger of meals habit over time. The mixture of excessive stress and quick access to extremely palatable meals may additionally clarify the upper dangers of different power ailments that we’ve seen in relation to meals insecurity.

Q: What different analysis questions are you taking a look at?

A: Once we discuss interventions for meals insecurity, we routinely go to our federal meals packages. In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen swift expansions of our greatest diet packages, exhibiting that they’re vital levers to scale back meals insecurity throughout nationwide emergencies. My colleagues and I are evaluating a few of these current insurance policies. I’m additionally actually considering seeing how poverty alleviation packages may cut back meals insecurity. Applications and insurance policies that deal with the minimal wage or cut back unemployment might have secondary impacts on stopping meals insecurity, which is so intimately tied to poverty.

Separate from this, I’m considering testing and evaluating environmental interventions to enhance dietary consumption. I’ve been concerned in some large-scale interventions to scale back sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. At present, I’m working with a group on the College of Michigan to check numerous eating corridor adjustments to scale back pink meat consumption, which is a crucial objective for each well being and sustainability causes.

Q: What does it imply to you as an alumna to be again on the Faculty as a college member?

I’m excited and humbled to be again at Harvard Chan Faculty, the place I acquired my foundational coaching and launched my profession. Now, ten years later, I feel I’ve a extra holistic perspective of how I can take my work to the following stage. I additionally really feel very privileged to work alongside my former mentors and colleagues, and the more and more gifted pool of scholars that we now have.

Total, I’m actually optimistic about rising my analysis program on the Faculty, specializing in the intersection of diet and well being fairness. I’m deeply dedicated to serving the general public well being group in that area.

Amy Roeder