Partners in Crime: Obesity and Poverty

Centuries ago, when obesity was a sign of wealth and power, kings and those of nobility would eat as they wished as the lower class of society struggled to find food to eat. In today's present society these beliefs have been flipped upside down. Those with a low socioeconomic status encompass the overweight majority and have a low chance of maintaining a fit slim figure. As obesity becomes a raging epidemic and poverty roars across the United States, a connection between the two has become more apparent. Consumers with a higher income are in a situation to eat healthier because they can afford a nutritional balanced diet while the impoverished are eating large amounts of cheap high calorie food, leaving them overweight with no hope to improve their diet.

Of the main causes that lead to obesity in those living in poverty, a poor diet is the most instrumental. In Loretta Shwartz-Nobel's article "America's Wandering Families", Schwartz Nobel interviews two homeless mothers about their current impoverished situation and their eating habits. One homeless mother of one is quoted saying, "I bought a lot of rice and beans and Bisquick mix…bags of cereal…and powdered milk because it is cheaper and it lasts longer" (Schwartz-Nobel 257) while the other single parent describes how her meals consist of "potatoes and some macaroni and cheese, the cheep things to go with dinner" (260). These desperate mothers only eat such unhealthy and unbalanced meals because, due to their impoverished state, it is all they can afford. Diets such as these, which include high calories and fat, are the main causes of childhood obesity that, in most cases, is carried into adulthood.

Nobel is not alone in her discovery of poor quality in diet among those living in poverty. In Kristen Wiig Dammann and Chery Smith's article on the research of obesity in low-income women, "Factors Affecting Low-Income Women's Food Choices and the Perceived Impact of Dietary Intake and Socioeconomic Status on their Health and Weight", Dammann and Smith state, "Research has suggested that because diets high in refined grains, added sugars, and added fats generally cost less than healthful diets composed of lean meats and fresh fruits,… the poorer segment of the population has greater exposure to an unhealthful diet" (Dammann and Smith 242). The authors believe that due to the poorer population's lack of income, they are exposed to more unhealthy foods because much healthier foods, such as fruit and lean meats, are more expensive and unappealing to a consumer with a small budget. This is not to say that the impoverished have a blurred view of healthy and non-healthy foods. Dammann and Smith quote a subject of their research who says, "I can't set myself aside and get all the right, proper, $3 tomatoes and broccoli and cauliflower…I don't have the money for it, and yes I do know what I'm supposed to eat" (248). These struggling parents have a great understanding of the healthy foods that they and their families need, but a problem that one family after another runs into is that they cannot afford the healthy foods required for a balanced diet. This leads to the parents as well as the children to become overweight or even obese.

One could easily assume that these low-income or homeless overweight families are not trying hard enough to handle their problems, that it is not the food that is the problem but the lifestyle of which these Americans live. In the article "The Wages of Sin" by Francine Prose, Prose describes how studies of the overweight often misconstrue their lifestyles, causing false information to be spread. Prose goes on to say, "Such prejudice has been found to derive from the widely accepted notion that fat people are at fault, responsible for their weight and appearance, that they are…lacking in the equalities of self-denial and impulse control that our society values" (Prose 198). The majority of people believe that the overweight are at fault for their own unhealthy lifestyle and that all the blame should be placed on them. People that accuse with these beliefs are ignorant to the many different factors and issues that the poor and overweight must cope with on a daily basis.

Physical activity can be considered the best way to lose weight and stay healthy. When applied to the overweight living in poverty, living a physical active lifestyle is hard to accomplish. In their article, "Diet, nutrition and the prevention of excess weight gain and obesity", authors Swinburn, Caterson, Seidell, and James believe, "Poorer neighborhoods tend to have fewer recreation amenities, be less safe, and have a higher concentration of fast food outlets" (Swinburn, Caterson, Seidell, and James 133). Those living in such poverty-stricken neighborhoods not only have nowhere to be physically active, but are also surrounded by nutrition lacking restaurants that only increase their obesity. In Russel Lopez and Patricia Hynes's article "Obesity, Physical Activity, and the Urban Environment: Public Health Research Needs", Lopez and Hynes believe the root of this problem is due to lack of awareness. When describing a research hypothesis on physical activity in suburban and urban settings, the authors explain, "the resultant findings were largely suburban in focus, [and]…research on overweight, physical activity and the urban built environment…of inner cities has yet to be done" (Lopez and Hynes 170). What is happening is that a lack of attention is being paid towards low income neighborhoods who are suffering due to their inability to be physically active. With the focus being centered on populations with a lacking obesity problem, the overweight living in low income, urban areas are suffering. In her article "Deprivation Amplification Revisited", Sally Macintyre provides a different reason for a lack of recreational amenities. Macintyre states, "Differences between areas are solely due to differences in the personal characteristics of the residents" (Macintyre 33). Macintyre is implying that suburban residents and urban residents live their lifestyles because of who they are. She believes suburban residents are hard workers rewarded with a wealthy community while urban residents are lazy and ignorant, thus their economic status is just another symptom of their personality. What is not taken into consideration is to the countless families that are born into their current situation of wealth or poverty and how many have no choice but to live unhealthy lifestyles. This leads to the unfortunate impoverished to have no access to nice fitness facilities or grocery stores stocked with the healthiest foods. Instead they are left with fast food restaurants and corner stores that only sell chips and soda.

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