Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why are poor people fat?

First of all, apparently they are. (I'd suspected it, but I was never really sure whether it was just some kind of prejudice working on me.) It's because calorie-dense foods are cheaper, while healthier foods like fruit, fish, and lean meats are more expensive. Given how unhealthy it is to be obese, working to feed the hungry more nutritious foods might help us improve their health prospects in the future.

11 comments:

Adam said...

The flip side is access to exercize facilities. Poor people rarely belong to air-conditioned gyms with well-maintained equipment, and rarely live next to large parks or in neighborhoods where it is safe to go for a run at night.

When I've lived near large parks, I've been much more motivated to run than when I lived in the "concrete jungle"--where a run would include a (un)healthy dose of car-exhaust as well as stopping evey 25 meters to cross a street.

Dana Watson said...

I had this discussion with my last ESL class, interestingly. One of their example readings was from "Nickeled and Dimed," so we were discussing how people (who were not wealthy exchange students living in dorms) could live on minimum wage. Their answer? KFC and McDonald's. When I pointed out that these were not very healthy options, they didn't really know what to say. It appears to be an issue not very many people think about, or at least, not people in a position to do anything about it. Cheap food in other countries isn't necessarily as unhealthy as it is here, judging from my experiences in Asia. Of course, those crazy Japanese people also have national health care.

(Oh, and Adam makes an excellent second point, to which I might add that poor people are also less likely to have extra time to devote to exercise, since they are likely working more than one job.)

Neil Sinhababu said...

Good point about the exercise, Adam.

I'm a big fan of "Nickel and Dimed."

david said...

I remember hearing someone argue that poor people's problems with weight begin in the womb. The story went something like this: if a fetus is not provided adequate nutrition as it develops, then its metabolism will slow down, in anticipation of being born into a world where calories are scarce. As it turns out, though, calories aren't scarce at all in 21st century America, so after the baby is born, it quickly becomes overweight. Since many women who are poor and pregnant don't get adequate nutrition (especially if they're eating a lot of fast food), this is supposed to partially explain why poor people are fat. And part of the solution, then, would be to provide poor pregnant women with vitamin supplements, etc.

I remember that the person who made this argument sounded like an expert, but I don't remember who it was or where, so you may want to take this with a grain of salt.

paperwight said...

Also, proper nutrition (cooking lean foods & vegetables) and exercise take *time*, which is the only thing that the working poor have less of than money.

For people who live in truly poor neighborhoods, those good4you foods are hard to find. Take a walk through a poor neighborhood sometime. Fast food, liquor stores, but not a lot of vegetable stands selling fresh & appetizing produce.

aaron said...

It's also simply possible that being poor could stem from having poor habits, similar to possible causes of poor health.

Anonymous said...

Fast food cheap? Seriously? For the price of a big bag of chips, you could buy two heads of broccoli. For the price of a Big Mac, you could buy a package of bacon and a half-dozen eggs. For the price of a bucket of KFC ... a pound of ground beef, some potatoes, onions, beans, tomatoes ... and there's a big ol' pot of chilli for you.

LC (female) said...

to the person above me. ever think about transportation? or the fact that it might be unsafe to get out of the house when you are living in places of high criminality? many poor people rely on public transportation to get them places. when you are working 2 jobs and trying to make means end, you don't have the time nor the money to waste going on a long trip by public transportation to buy whole foods and produce and carry them back to your home. walking isn't an option when there really isn't many produce stores or farmer's markets to go to in your area (which tends to be the case in many lower-income areas) but there tends to be fast-food chains at every corner though. so it's not just about refusing to make such an easy choice when it comes to health. think about other external factors.

Anonymous said...

Buying two heads of broccoli won't fill you up. Buying a 99 cent burger will. I remember being "poor" in college and living off the cheap Jack N The Box burgers. You could eat a filling "meal" for 2 bucks. And you didn't have to cook or clean up afterwards.

I'm also a teacher in a long income area, and I find that part of it is unhealthy habits. All the things you name are also true- the bad food is cheaper, poor people have less time, it's not as easy for them to work out as their neighborhoods are not designed for outdoor walks and they can't afford gyms, etc. All of that is true. But it's also true that their habits are bad. Most of my students are very poor and live in bad neighborhoods, but they are immigrants and they have stay-at-home moms who cook fresh foods for them every day. Do they eat them? No. The food goes in the trash and they fill up on sodas, chips, fast food, etc. By the time they have kids, they've lost the habit of cooking at home, so you'll usually see that immigrants cook in their homes and their kids do not. Why is that? I don't know.

I know that most of my coworkers are middle class, and they eat microwaveable lunches almost exclusively. For dinner, they usually eat out or make something quick out of a box or just have cereal. Why is that? I don't know.

Poverty is a problem, but I think there is a greater problem with the way we think about food in the US.

Anonymous said...

that should say "low income" not long income.

Anonymous said...

We live in a genetic heirachy so genes that arn't wanted end up at the bottom. Also the other points mentioned, and the fact they've nothing better to do than eat, no holidays etc.