New research finds that poverty and obesity are strongly linked because poorer people simply cannot afford to follow “healthy” diets which tend to be much more expensive than those which fit their limited budgets.
In opposition to the standard assumption that diet is about making healthy choices Adam Drewnowski, the director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle, stated in a study for Washington’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine that whole grains, fish and fresh vegetables and fruits are considerably more expensive than foods with refined grains, added sugars and added fat.
Drewnowski said. “It is the opposite of choice. People are not poor by choice, and they become obese primarily because they are poor.”
Anne Hoisington, a family and community development instructor with the Oregon State University Extension Service confirmed that people with limited funds are primarily concerned with making sure their family has enough food, rather than with buying food of high quality. This often results, she says, in a high starch diet of rice and noodles.
Foods such as packaged noodles, toaster pastries, and fast-food meals are easy to prepare for busy working parents and are cheap and filling. For the poor, quantity, which is characterized by “filler” foods, often wins out over quality.
Furthermore, eating patterns of deprivation and compensation can also contribute to obesity. This is especially an issue for mothers who will eat less so their child will be able to have more. Cutting back can trigger over-eating when “fast” or unhealthy food is available thereby causing weight gain because of metabolism malfunction.
Low-income families also suffer from a lack of physical activity, said Anna Galas, a nutrition and education program faculty member with OSU’s Lane County Extension Services. They often live in dangerous areas without side walks or parks and sometimes even without accessible bus lines and parents are too busy working to support their families to worry about physical exercise.
A recent national survey found that spontaneous physical activity among children, who should get 60 minutes of exercise a day, has declined significantly in the past decade. Although 27% of children ages 9 to 13 play organized baseball, only 6% play on their own according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Given these new findings, it would seem that the combination of poverty, a marked decline in exercise, and a dangerous level of obesity may be indicative of a troubling socio-economic pattern in the United States.