Why Low Income and Obesity Are Linked Together
Numerous studies show that low-income and obesity are linked together. What causes higher obesity rates in low-income households?
Some of the studies answer this with level of education and intelligence, stating the higher level of education, the less likely to be obese. I know people who I would consider with a high IQ and college educated as not only being overweight or obese, but also having type II diabetes as a result.
A 2006 study by the Colorado Health Foundation titled the “Income, Education and Obesity” found that 25% of Colorado children living in low-income households with an average income of $25,000 or less were obese compared to 8% of the children in households with an income of $75,000 or more who were obese.
In Colorado, 25% of low-income adults were obese compared with 16.7% of adults with an income over $75,000 who were obese. Among high school dropouts, the obesity rate is 25% and for college graduates, 14%. This is from a state that has the lowest obesity rate in the US with 18.9% of adults classified as obese. In 2009, 31 states reported obesity rates over 25%. In 1991, not one state reported more than a 20% obesity rate.
According to the US Agriculture Department, between 1985 and 2003, the cost of fruits and vegetables rose by 120%. While the cost of soft drinks, sweets, sugars and sweets rose by less than 50%.
An Australian study had an interesting answer to this question: “eating binges”. When people are living paycheck to paycheck and aren’t even sure where their next paycheck is coming from, they can go on an eating binge when they get a paycheck. They don’t know where the next meal might be so they eat like crazy when they have the chance. This could be a built-in survival mechanism in humans.
Cheap Bad Food
The more popular answer is, cheap fast food causes obesity. I don’t think this has anything to do with education level; educated smart people eat fast food. Fast food restaurants are advertising their cheaper meals. Burger King has its value menu, with a $1 double cheeseburger. Jack In The Box has its Big Cheeseburger for a buck. Taco Bell has agreements with sports teams. During summer, if your baseball team had 7 or more runs, you get four tacos for $1 if you buy a drink. Taco Bell also has a deal if your football team gets two or more touchdowns; you get two free tacos if you buy a drink. These deals are only good the day after the game between 4 and 6 PM. Surprise, surprise, right during the dinner hour. Hit a couple of nearby Taco Bells and you have dinner.
Four Taco Bell hard shell tacos have 680 calories, 20 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 120 mg of cholesterol and 1,320 mg of sodium. That is a lot of fat.
Low-Income or All Incomes
Many times in low-income neighborhoods there will be more of the mini-mart store with a lot of junk foods instead of a full grocery store. Low-income neighborhoods aren’t thought of as safe enough for the kids to play outside after school and dinner or for adults to go for walks.
Many low-income families have just one parent, usually the mother who might be working two jobs. There just isn’t time to make meals, so fast food or the processed microwave dinners are the only answer. At the grocery store, I see people with food stamp cards buying t-bone steaks. That’s good for one meal and no leftovers. Are they eating fast food and processed meals the rest of the month until the next food stamp card arrives?
I don’t have the answer. I know plenty of middle and high-income people who are overweight to obese. I see middle to high-income neighbors who are obese coming home with fast food bags in their hands, morning and night.
Cooking Your Own Meals
People I know who are never overweight or obese are frugal people. It’s not because their extreme frugality keeps them from eating at fast food places. They know how to save money and they do all their own cooking. When you do your own cooking, you can buy more foods in bulk cheaply, control your sodium, calorie and fat content and most importantly, you always have leftovers. I know low-income people who look at you like you’re insane when you mention leftovers for tomorrow night’s dinner. They wouldn’t have leftovers for dinner if they were starving.
Too Much Salt and Sodium
Sodium is needed by our bodies to keep us healthy, but too much sodium is unhealthy. We shouldn’t have more than 2,500 mg of sodium per day. Recent studies at the University of Helsinki found that too much sodium makes the body thirsty for sweet drinks to counteract the over consumption of salt. And fast food and processed food is loaded with sodium.
There are a lot of possible answers. The statistics do show that obesity in low-income households is higher than high-income households. Could it be that there are more low-income households or that the number of low-income households is rising just as fast as the obesity rate? Do low-income households just buy more higher-calorie, low-nutrition foods? There is a misconception that healthy food is just too expensive. There are many ads at the large grocery chains for healthy food every week. A pot of stew or chili can last several nights with all kinds of vegetables, beans and just one pound of meat. Yet the obesity rate continues to rise at alarming rates. The argument is always, how can low-income people be overweight since that usually means eating too much. But if they are low-income, how can they afford so much food in order to be overweight? If the statistics are correct, and being low-income does cause more obesity, it has to be the type of food low-income families are eating. Fast food is not a staple.
© 2009 Sam Montana