Academics & Research

Study reveals violence, food correlation


Depression as a result of domestic abuse can lead to chronic cycles of overeating that can result in weight gain and obesity, according to a new study published by the UH Texas Obesity Research Center. | Aisha Bouderdaben/The Daily Cougar

Women who suffer physical, sexual or mental violence from an intimate partner are more likely to be food-insecure, according to a new study from the Texas Obesity Research Center at UH.

Food insecurity is the limited access to adequate food because of the household’s economic and social condition. Assistant professor and TORC researcher Daphne Hernandez conducted research on the connection between partner violence and the impediment to food access.

“The results indicate that intimate partner violence is positively associated with families with young children experiencing food insecurity,” Hernandez said. “The link between intimate partner violence and food insecurity is maternal depression. It appears that the feelings associated with depression, such as a feeling of fatigue associated to the mental and physical violence, are a barrier to obtaining food.”

In her study, Hernandez analyzed data collected from women who experienced intimate partner violence. She found that mothers who faced violence from a partner were 44 percent more likely to experience depression. In addition, households of mothers who suffered depression were more prone to face food insecurity.

Though it may be counter-intuitive, limited access to food, especially healthy food, can be linked with obesity. The Food Research and Action Center, which is a nonprofit organization that works to rid the U.S. of hunger and undernutrition, connects the two pieces to paint a picture about the cycles of food insecurity, especially for women.

“Those who are eating less or skipping meals to stretch food budgets may overeat when food does become available, resulting in chronic ups and downs in food intake that can contribute to weight gain. Cycles of food restriction or deprivation also can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with food and metabolic changes that promote fat storage — all the worse when combined with overeating. Unfortunately, overconsumption is even easier given the availability of cheap, energy-dense foods in low-income communities,” according to the Food Research and Action Center.

The goal of Hernandez’s study was to understand what family-related factors were associated with families experiencing food insecurity. These results could then be used for organizations in charge of supporting families in times of crisis.

TORC director Daniel P. O’Connor said that studies like this one help with understanding complex problems and often lead to new, innovative solutions.

“While the impact of any single study is often difficult to judge, studies such as this expand our understanding of how complex situations and behaviors, such as food insecurityy, depression and domestic violence, may influence one another,” O’Connor said.

Hernandez said he believes that the study highlights the importance of focusing on women’s physical and mental health and suggests that mental health screening should be offered when applying for food assistance as a way to identify individuals in need of food, security and mental health services.

“We need to stop thinking of food insecurity as solely a circumstance of financial strain,” Hernandez said. “Targeting women’s health may be a way to decrease the number of families that experience food insecurity.”

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