Psychological Consequences of Inequality for Food Intake

How is inequality associated to social gradients in health such as overweight/obesity? Inconclusive findings and misunderstanding regarding the association between inequality and overweight/obesity impair attempts to reduce social gradients in obesity. In this chapter, we discuss various findings from research on food choices and consumption in situations broadly associated with inequality; that is, environmental scarcity and resource competition, relative deprivation and wealth, and social class distinctions. Based on a review of social and evolutionary psychological theories, we present a model that describes a diverse set of psychological mechanisms that may underlie the effect of experienced inequality on eating behaviors. In particular, we discuss how perceptions of environmental harshness increase motivation for calories, how relative status differences can trigger negative emotions that increase caloric intake, and how food consumption can be motivated by socioeconomic class distinctions that are heightened under conditions of inequality. We conclude with an integration of these different findings and propose future directions that can address current limitations in interventions aimed at reducing social inequalities in health.