by Emily Oken, MD, MPH
Women of childbearing age and young children, the segment of the population for whom good nutrition is most essential, are most likely to be affected by the double whammy of poverty and obesity. Among Boston-area homeless adults, obesity was about 50% more common among women than men.
I and others here in Harvard Pilgrim’s Obesity Prevention Program have done a lot of work to show the risks associated with excess weight among pregnant mothers and young children, as well as factors that underlie these risks. In a recent study, we found that having experienced material hardship was associated with higher risks for excess weight prior to pregnancy and excess weight gain during pregnancy. We were surprised, and more than a little dismayed to observe, that even material hardship during childhood – often decades before pregnancy – predicted excess weight gain during pregnancy.
As one expert wrote recently, alleviating poverty may be the best, if not the only, way to stop the obesity epidemic.