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Reasons Why Poor and Fat Go Hand in Hand

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Reasons Why Poor and Fat Go Hand In Hand | | | | |

Being fat or plump used to be a sign of health and prosperity. If you look at pictures taken during the era of The Great Depression, you can see clear as day that the poor people in line at the soup kitchens were thin as tooth picks while the well-off crowd was pleasantly plump. Today however, that trend has reversed itself. Pictures of terribly obese people at Wal-Mart paying for their groceries with food stamps are now the norm while the better off crowd are skinny and svelte looking. There are many theories as to why this has happened and in the book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan reasons that is because the cost per calorie has become exceedingly cheap. Simply put, it is cheaper to eat non-healthy items and pack on the weight in the process, or in other words, it is cheaper to be fat.

Some make the argument that lack of education in the poor communities is the main culprit of poor obesity. The argument states that poor people just do not have the education necessary to know what and what not to eat. This may have some validity in it, which I will address later, but it does not change the fact that, as stated by Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips and cookies; spent on a whole food like carrots, the same dollar buys only 250 calories. On the beverage aisle, you can buy 875 calories of soda for a dollar, or 170 calories of fruit juice from concentrate (108). Well educated or not, if you only have a dollar to spend, you are going to try and get the most bang for your buck and that means the higher calorie, less healthy alternative. This point is also echoed in a study done in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found: “Trends of increasing overweight showed a greater impact in families living below the poverty line vs. not living below the poverty line. Furthermore, physical inactivity, high consumption of cheaply priced sweetened beverages, and breakfast skipping may be candidate targets for prevention programs aimed at reducing this recently emerged disparity”. (JAMA 2006) 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%.

Pollan also goes on to show that in 1984, Coke and Pepsi completely switched over their recipes from sugar, to High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which was cheaper than sugar. This is also when our nations’ consumption of soft drinks skyrocketed, as the cost of these sweet tasting drinks was now also cheaper. But, what the companies did do, instead of lowering the price on the existing sizes available, they created bigger sizes and for only a few pennies more, you could double the size of your soft drink and double the intake of calories, and eventually, double the size of your waistband.

Doing this switch also had another undesirable effect in that it raised the demand for corn. Not the corn that you and I eat right off the cob mind you, but a corn that HFCS is derived from. What this did is cause the farmers around the nation to abandon the growing of other produce so they could meet this higher corn demand. In doing this, they have caused the price of produce to skyrocket the 120% because there simply is not enough to meet the demand. Some also speculate that this change to the way farmers do their work is also leading to lower quality cattle. Since the farmers need all their land to grow this corn, they do not have the land space they once had available for grazing. So the cattle are herded into barns and are fed the corn that the farmers now grow. The problem is, cows were built to digest grass, not corn, so they must be given chemicals to aid in the digestion of corn. This is what leads some experts to speculate that the overall quality of the beef is down, and it may in fact not be as safe for human consumption as it once was.

In order to change the fact that right now, it is by far cheaper to be fat or obese compared to healthy, the way our food is produced and what is in it is going to have to change. Food producers should do away with HFCS and go back to using all natural sugar in their products. Doing this will have two effects, one being that sugar is a natural product, and while consuming large amounts of it are still not healthy, overall it will be healthier than the manufactured HFCS. The other change would be that prices on these non-healthy sweets will go up, making them less appealing to those on a strict budget. If we can make the bad foods more expensive than the good foods, then by simple consumer cost savings will help the healthy foods win out. I heard a comedian say one time during his stand-up routine that gun control is never going to happen, so instead of trying to control the guns, instead raise the price of bullets. If a single bullet costs $500, you’re going to think long and hard and make sure it’s worth it before you actually shoot someone. Same principle can apply here. If you make a bottle of coke cost five dollars, whereas the same size bottle of orange juice costs two dollars, guess which one people will pick. They will think long and hard before deciding to plop down an extra three dollars for a coke.

Where you live can also have an impact on your weight. According to a study published in Urban Ecology (Urban Ecology, 2008), those living in an urban setting are less likely to be obese than the ones living out in the country for the simple fact that there is more walking done in an urban sprawl. From the study: “Residents of sprawling counties were likely to walk less during leisure time, weigh more, and have greater prevalence of hypertension than residents of compact counties”. An article in the New Orleans City Business magazine reported on a study done by Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who is the chief of general internal medicine at the Tulane University School of Medicine where she and her colleagues found that people living in low-income neighborhoods simply do not have access to healthy foods. These neighborhoods contain mostly fast food restaurants and mini-marts selling cheap processed foods. Without any real way to get out of these neighborhoods to get to where an actual grocery store might be, these people are forced to settle for the options made available to them. The solution to this is a simple one to say, if the food sellers won’t come to the people, bring the people to the food. As I said though, this is much easier said than done. Many communities agree that their respective public transportation systems are in need of over-hauling. Yet the funding for these projects is never available. I believe it is finally time to stop talking about increasing public transportation, and actually do it. The act of simply putting more busses on the road, going to more places will allow those who cannot afford their own mode of transportation to get to a grocery store and purchase healthy foods instead of the bag of chips at the mini-mart. Making public transportation more accessible has long been a cry out for environmentalists to reduce the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing emissions that cause harm to the environment. Perhaps now it is time for the medical field to jump on this bandwagon, not to help the environment, but to help people get to the food they need in order to live longer, healthier lives.

Lack of education is a reason some give for the growing number of poor obese people, though I don’t subscribe to that theory directly. Lack of education may lead you to a position of low-income which could then lead to obesity. Many low-income families have just one parent, usually the mother, who most likely is working two jobs. There just isn’t enough time in the day to make good healthy 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 steaks, which are 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? This is where education and a change in what the food stamp cards can be used for will help. Educate people not only in how to eat healthy, but also show them the value of having a budget. Making the food stamp card only useable on healthy items will also aid in this. Instead of being able to blow the balance of the card on a few high priced “luxury” items, make the luxury items inaccessible. If you take away the choice, and provide a list of healthy foods that the card can be used for, a lot of this waste will go away and people will be able to eat healthier more often. Using the example of the apple and the Snickers bar, we will assume the both items cost $1. Using the most un-educated person we can find, we let them sample both of the items. Then, we give the option; they can buy one and not the other. I would bet the Snickers bar would win hands down over the apple. It would win not for any other reason that it tastes better, and, with all those cheap calories, it will make the person feel fuller. So we make the Snickers bar a luxury item that the food stamp card cannot be used for. We educate that person that though the Snickers bar makes you feel fuller right now, the apple will keep you feeling full for a lot longer, and will give you a longer lasting supply of energy to go about your daily activities. Until we find a way to make the healthy items substantially cheaper than the non-healthy ones, this unfortunate trend will continue because as they say, Snickers satisfies.

The effects of being obese are quite staggering. Being obese raises the risk of a multitude of medical issues, and that list reads like an all-star team line-up. The list includes: * Coronary heart disease * Type 2 diabetes * Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon) * Hypertension (high blood pressure) * Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides) * Stroke * Liver and Gallbladder disease * Sleep apnea and respiratory problems * Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint) * Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)
The amount of obese people in this nation is growing at an alarming rate. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), one third of the U.S. population is now obese (July 2011). Having 33% of the population at weight considered to be obese, under added risk for the above list of medical conditions is one of the many reasons health care and health insurance in this country is so expensive and such a drain on the economy. Taking the dollars out of it though, this is a large number of people who are not going to live a long and fruitful life and the life they are leading or going or one they are going to lead is not going to be a good one. The toll it takes not only on the obese person health wise, but also the emotional turmoil it puts their friends and family through is reason enough to try and get this epidemic under control. Having to care for an obese family member whether it is health care related or just the fact that the person is too big to get off the couch is a huge burden to carry. Life is hard enough without having to carry 400 pounds of candy bars, chips, and soft drinks around as well.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Retrieved from Ewing, Reid. Relationship Between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity, and Morbidity. Retrieved from
Miech, Richard A. PhD, MPH. Trends in the Association of Poverty with Overweight Among US Adolescents, 1971-2004. Retrieved from the Journal of the American Medical Association
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals New York, New York, the Penguin Group

Richard A., W. (n.d). Fatty foods fill out low-income eating options. New Orleans CityBusiness (LA), Retrieved from EBSCOhost.…...

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