ment.” Three speakers addressed this topic at the workshop, focusing specifically on the availability, quality, and marketing of food.


Obesogenic environments are becoming more common, said Angela Odoms-Young, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The least expensive food options are typically high in calories and low in nutrients. Households with limited resources tend to spend less on food overall and less on healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables (Alaimo et al., 2001; Drewnowski and Specter, 2004; Hartline-Grafton et al., 2009; Ludwig and Pollack, 2009; Larson and Story, 2010a).

Some evidence suggests that food-insecure families may be more susceptible to obesogenic environments for a variety of reasons including the ways in which food assistance is distributed, maternal stress, and disruptive family routines (Anderson and Whitaker, 2010; Gundersen et al., 2010). In addition, race/ethnicity, poverty, household structure, and location (such as living in a rural or urban area or in the Midwest or South) all interact with both food insecurity and obesity in complicated ways (Kendall et al., 1996; Blanchard and Lyson, 2002; Powell et al., 2007; Nord et al., 2008; Sharma et al., 2009; Chen and Escarce, 2010; Grow et al., 2010; Ogden et al., 2010).

Surprisingly, Odoms-Young said, relatively few studies have looked at the ways in which the environment, food insecurity, and obesity are interconnected. She discussed several possible mechanisms that could tie together these three phenomena as a guide to future research.

Energy-Dense Foods

The first mechanism is the high availability of energy-dense food options and the low cost of less healthful options. People living in low-income areas and communities of color tend to have less access to outlets that carry more healthful food options and greater access to stores with less healthful options (Cheadle et al., 1991; Morland et al., 2002a, 2002b; Laraia et al., 2004; Lewis et al., 2005; Zenk et al., 2005). Odoms-Young cited one study that looked at the relationship between food pantry clients and the food environment in Pomona, California, which demonstrated that these families had lower access to stores that carried more healthful food options and that only 9 percent lived within walking distance of the pantry (Algert et al., 2006). In this study, 83 percent of food pantry clients were within walking distance of stores with limited or no produce, generally small to midsized convenience marts, while 41 percent of the food pantry clients did not live within walking distance of a store carrying a variety of fresh produce.

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