People who are poor or consider themselves poor may eat more than those who don’t, according to a study published online in the May 2016 issue of the journal Appetite. In addition, anxiety stemming from those who feel guilty about their wealth can lead to overconsumption, according to the study.
“Feeling poor and feeling unequal can simultaneously influence eating behavior,” Boyka Bratanova, who led the study and is a lecturer at University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said in a news release. Those feelings push people to consumer larger amounts of high-calorie food, she said.
The research provides the first experimental evidence that poverty and inequality can cause obesity through increased consumption of high-calorie food, and that psychological mechanisms link these economic conditions to eating behavior, according to the release.
In one study, the researchers “experimentally manipulated poverty and measured inequality,” while “the second study did the reverse,” according to the release.
In the first study, participants were divided into two groups. One group was told to write about how similar they were to others who lived with little finances or belongings. The second group was told to write about how similar they were to wealthy people. Both groups then watched two videos and were given chocolate and cheese crackers. Participants were 54 British undergraduate students (28 female), with the mean age of 20.54 years, according to the study.
Participants induced to feel poor ate on average 54% more food than participants induced to feel wealthy, according to the study.
The second study involved 93 British undergraduates (63 female) with the mean age of 20.53 years. The study manipulated inequality and measured perceived poverty as the ability to afford material goods.
“Participants who reported lower ability to afford goods and activities consumed more calories,” the authors wrote in the study
Also, those who worried more about either being looked down upon or envied, consumed more. “This social anxiety in turn pushes people to consume larger amounts of food high in sugar and fat as a way to soothe their emotions,” Bratanova said in the release.
Bratanova said the findings could be used to re-evaluate tax- and education-based interventions to prevent and treat obesity.
Establishing consumption taxes, such as a sugar tax, will likely push people further into poverty rather than change eating behaviors, she said in the release.
Bratanova suggested addressing poverty and inequality to prevent and treat obesity.
Bratanova’s study also involved researchers at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of Melbourne in Australia, according to the release.
To comment, email [email protected]