A research team from Ohio State University identified two apparently unrelated however robust predictors of obesity: having food visible around the house and having low self-esteem related to one’s weight. The study is published in the International Journal of Obesity.
The researchers focused on understanding the impact of home environment on obesity, but also assessed psychological factors. The results revealed that architectural features had no relationship to obesity status, however, several food-related findings were associated with obesity.
The researchers found that obese participants had food visible throughout the house ate more non-healthy foods in comparison with non-obese participants. The results revealed that the two study groups spent approximately an identical amount of money on food and said eating identical amounts of calories, however obese participants spent more on fast food in comparison with non-obese.
“The amount of food in the homes was similar, but in the homes of obese individuals, food was distributed in more locations outside the kitchen,” said in a recent news release Charles Emery, professor of psychology at Ohio State and lead author of the study. “That speaks to the environment being arranged in a way that may make it harder to avoid eating food. That has not been clearly documented before.”
“Effects of the home environment and psychosocial factors haven’t been examined together in previous studies,” Emery said. “Most weight-loss interventions for children and people with eating disorders include a focus on self-esteem, but it’s not standard for adult weight-loss programs. Self-esteem is important because when adults don’t feel good about themselves, there may be less incentive for implementing behavioral changes in the home environment.” Compared to non-obese participants, obese participants had lower self-esteem regarding their weight, and also had more depressive symptoms.
According to Emery the predictors of obesity status retrieved from statistical modeling should be careful interpreted and should not be considered causes of the problems with weight. “We’re painting a detailed picture of the home environment that two different groups of people have created. Whether that environment contributed to obesity or obesity led to the environment, we don’t know.”
The researchers assessed a total of 100 participants aged from 20 to 78 years. A total of 50 participants were obese with an average body mass index of 36.80 (a BMI of 30 or more indicates obesity). They then did a two-hour home visit with participants, and asked them about food consumption, and observed participants’ home food storage and layout. All participants were asked to fill questionnaires assessing psychological variables. All participants were followed up after 2 weeks and the researchers examined their physical activity and food purchases.
Emery mentioned that multiple metabolic and genetic factors have an impact on obesity, but the home is a logical place to be considered when thinking about improving health.
“I do think the home environment is a really important place to focus on since that’s where most people spend a majority of their time,” he said. “For interventions, we should be thinking about the home as a place to start helping people establish what we know to be healthier habits and behaviors.”
According to Emery, apart from food, other health behaviors affecting weight should be considered such as abstaining from alcohol or quitting smoking.
As Emery noted obese participants had more concerns about having access to enough food, but not for financial reasons, compared to non-obese. They also reported being less able to avoid eating when distressed or in locations where eating is informally adequate.
“This may reflect a greater preoccupation with food, and that is also important. If food is something you’re thinking about a lot, it potentially becomes a source of stress. And yet it’s something hard not to think about,” Emery said. “You can’t just stop eating, but ideally you can change the way you eat and, to some degree, change the way you’re thinking about eating.”