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Experimental biology can inform our understanding of food insecurity

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J Exp Biol. 2024 Mar 7;227(Suppl_1):jeb246215. doi: 10.1242/jeb.246215. Epub 2024 Mar 7.


Food insecurity is a major public health issue. Millions of households worldwide have intermittent and unpredictable access to food and this experience is associated with greater risk for a host of negative health outcomes. While food insecurity is a contemporary concern, we can understand its effects better if we acknowledge that there are ancient biological programs that evolved to respond to the experience of food scarcity and uncertainty, and they may be particularly sensitive to food insecurity during development. Support for this conjecture comes from common findings in several recent animal studies that have modeled insecurity by manipulating predictability of food access in various ways. Using different experimental paradigms in different species, these studies have shown that experience of insecure access to food can lead to changes in weight, motivation and cognition. Some of these studies account for changes in weight through changes in metabolism, while others observe increases in feeding and motivation to work for food. It has been proposed that weight gain is an adaptive response to the experience of food insecurity as ‘insurance’ in an uncertain future, while changes in motivation and cognition may reflect strategic adjustments in foraging behavior. Animal studies also offer the opportunity to make in-depth controlled studies of mechanisms and behavior. So far, there is evidence that the experience of food insecurity can impact metabolic efficiency, reproductive capacity and dopamine neuron synapses. Further work on behavior, the central and peripheral nervous system, the gut and liver, along with variation in age of exposure, will be needed to better understand the full body impacts of food insecurity at different stages of development.

PMID:38449329 | DOI:10.1242/jeb.246215

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