A new study from Washington State University, US, suggests an increased prevalence of diabetes later in life for young adults at risk of food insecurity.

Using data on almost 4,000 people from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, researchers found that adults aged between 24-32 who were concerned about food running out showed greater potential for developing diabetes.

The onset of diabetes was identified by blood glucose tests or self-reports at ages 32-42, in comparison to participants who did not report food insecurity risk.

Cassandra Nguyen, Lead Author of the study and Assistant Professor at WSU’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), said: “When we look at the data 10 years later, we do see this separation in prevalence of diabetes: those that experienced risk of food insecurity at young adulthood are more likely to have diabetes in middle adulthood.”

Previous studies have already found an association between food insecurity and health issues, including diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. This latest study recognises a causal relationship between food insecurity and the development of lifestyle diseases.

Although an explicit reason for this causal link cannot be identified, past research has shown that food-insecure households usually have diets with poor or lower nutritional value than those without food insecurity.

“Eating according to the dietary guidelines tends to cost more money, and it may cost more time. It’s not always accessible to households that have limitations such as transportation to sources of lower cost, nutritionally dense food,” Nguyen added.

Nguyen also suggested that those living with food insecurity can end up caught in a negative reinforcing cycle: whereby food insecurity is connected to a diet that may pose a disease risk, creating health care expenses that burden household resources, eventually reinforcing the initial food insecurity.

“It’s really important to ensure that individuals who are experiencing food insecurity are able to be identified and that they have resources made available to them to be able to break the cycle,” Nguyen concluded.

This study was originally published in The Journal of Nutrition

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