Study Looks at Food Insecurity, Obesity and Black Women’s Health

Nov. 5, 2021

For more information, contact Ted Griggs: (225) 288-8840,

Researchers Will Measure Mental and Physical Toll of Not Having Enough to Eat

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – A new, first-of-a-kind study will examine how food insecurity – lacking enough food for an active and healthy life – influences the physical and mental health of Black women.

By measuring a number of psychological and physiological mechanisms, researchers will gain a better understanding of the relationship between food insecurity and obesity.

“Food insecurity is associated with poor health outcomes, such as obesity. More than 18 percent of U.S. adults have food insecurity, and the rates are even higher among Black women,” said Candice Myers, PhD, Director of the Social Determinants and Health Disparities Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Food insecurity is also cyclic. Sometimes people have enough to eat and sometimes they suffer food shortages, said John Apolzan, PhD, Director of the Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical. Our study will investigate the stress from episodic food insecurity and its effect over time on body weight, and mental and physical health.

Drs. Myers and Apolzan are the co-principal investigators on the RESPONSES study, which will enroll 60 Black women with obesity, 30 of them with food insecurity and 30 who have enough food for an active and healthy life. The participants can be age 18 to 35.

For more information about the study, click here, call (225) 763-3000, or email

The researchers will assess episodes of food insecurity and stress on a weekly basis. Participants will fill out questionnaires to assess psychological factors. Researchers will also measure physical responses to stress, such as the levels of cortisol and c-reactive protein.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. When cortisol levels are too high, a person may gain weight rapidly and have hypertension (high blood pressure). C-reactive protein levels increase when inflammation in the body rises. High levels of C-reactive protein have been linked to heart disease.

The connection between food insecurity and obesity is not fully understood, Dr. Myers said. Studies like this one will help advance our knowledge of how this relationship works.

"The study has significant public health implications,” said Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, PhD. “New insights into the cyclic nature of food insecurity will help us address the underlying mechanisms of obesity, help offset food insecurity’s impacts on obesity, and reduce health disparities in minority communities.”

The project is supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R21MD015791-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center
The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research and architected the “Obecity, USA” awareness and advocacy campaign to help solve the obesity epidemic by 2040. The Center is affiliated with Louisiana State University. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 480 employees within a network of 40 clinics
and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more information, see