Overweight Homeless

Malnutrition continues to be a problem for people living without stable homes, but it is beginning to be accompanied by obesity.

Jun 6, 2012
Edyta Zielinska

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, MATTHEW WOITUNSKI

Obesity may be the new face of malnutrition in the United States. Out of a pool of more than 5,600 homeless people seen by doctors in the Boston area between 2007 and 2008, 60 percent were overweight or obese, according to a study published in the Journal of Urban Health. Only 1.6 percent of those seen were underweight.

While malnutrition has been linked to obesity before in what’s called the hunger-obesity paradox, whether that extended to the poorest in our society was unknown. “You can buy calories very cheaply, but it’s hard to buy nutrition cheaply,” Andrew Rundle, a Columbia University obesity researcher told Wired Science.

If obesity, and the metabolic diseases that come with it, such as diabetes, continue to rise in the 3 million US homeless, it could present new challenges for society.  For example, needles required for insulin replacement treatments are not allowed in homeless shelters. “This is going to be a national issue,” the study’s co-author Jim O’Connell, also president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, told Wired.