the workshop’s second day, three speakers looked at the ways in which researchers can help overcome these obstacles.
Treating obesity clinically is usually very difficult regardless of a person’s income level, said Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. For food-insecure people, who already have many stressors in their lives, keeping food records and counting calories is for the most part “completely unrealistic.” A better option is to change the environment in such a way that people find it easier to eat healthful food.
Schwartz examined several research avenues designed to improve diets for everyone, including those who are food insecure or obese. American diets tend to be high in sugar, salt, and fats and low in fruits and vegetables, fiber, and calcium. To some extent, people are biologically predisposed to prefer high sugar, high salt, and high fats, Schwartz said. Even infants prefer these substances in their food, noted Schwartz.
Some foods also may have addictive qualities. Although this idea has been very controversial, evidence is starting to accumulate that certain foods can trigger addictive processes, Schwartz said. For example, foods that combine sugar, salt, and fat can override satiety signals. In addition, foods can have emotional connotations that encourage overeating.
A variety of policy options aim to decrease consumption of unhealthful food and promote healthful eating. Schwartz went through these options one by one while pointing to the potential of further research to improve diets, prevent obesity, and reduce the stigma associated with weight.
A variety of options exist for changing what students eat in educational institutions, including limiting competitive foods in schools, limiting unhealthful foods in child care, and otherwise altering what students eat when they are in schools. For example, Schwartz and her colleagues have done research in Connecticut on taking unhealthful competitive foods out of schools and found that children’s consumption of these foods went down, with no evidence of their compensating by eating more of those foods outside of school (Schwartz et al., 2009).
Federal food assistance programs often talk about the minimum amount of food that recipients need, but they do not talk about a maximum. New