People with food insecurities likely to binge eat when there's food: U of M study

A barbecue platter from Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Capistrano on Friday, April 30, 2021 that includes, clockwise from bottom, brisket, jalapeño cornbread, and smoked Jidori Chicken. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register vi

The feast-or-famine cycle is a real thing for those with food insecurities, a University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) study found. 

Researchers found young adults who don't have reliable access to enough nutritious food may be prone to binge eating when food is available to them, a news release explained. The study found fluctuating levels of available food throughout the month may lead people to restrict the amount they eat when food is scarce, but will then overeat when more food is available. 

Binge-eating is linked with adverse physical and mental health issues, such as type 2 diabetes and depression, the release notes. 

The U of M's study involved researchers surveying 75 young adults living in food-insecure households multiple times a day over a two-week span. Researchers found people binge eat more in the hours following when food was more plentiful. This link only existed in those using food assistance programs – not for people who didn't report using food assistance, the release said. 

"Policymakers should consider how they could provide more stable and consistent access to adequate food," study co-author Vivienne Hazzard said in a news release. "While programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are critical to improving food security in the U.S., some have called for a restructuring of their benefit distribution schedules.

"Currently, these programs distribute benefits only once a month. Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests more frequent distribution of benefits may be warranted," Hazzard added. 

The release says more research is needed to determine if intervening to promote more stable food access can interrupt the feast-or-famine cycle, thus reducing binge-eating behaviors.