Monday, September 17, 2012

Obesity: Sign of Poverty, Hunger

Obesity among the poor seems counter-intuitive.  But, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Low-income families work from restricted budgets, restrictions that apply to grocery shopping and food choices.  In addition, thousands of low-income families live in areas of the city that offer limited and often unhealthy grocery purchasing alternatives. 

If you live on limited income, you will likely learn to purchase cheaper food products that will satisfy hunger quickly, choices that invariably include high percentages of high calorie and high sodium, processed products.  Fast foods, chips, sodas and high carbohydrates lead to problems with weight, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. 

Add to this the fact that many low-income neighborhoods do not offer safe, secure areas for exercise and you have a perfect formula for overweight children and adults. 


Children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often than other children and they go hungry twice the rate of other children.  Nutritional deficiencies in homeless children often lead to increased rates of being overweight and obese. National Center on Family Homelessness

There are much higher rates of obesity observed at every age of children experiencing homelessness than in other populations.  About one-third of U. S. adults (33.8%) are obese.  Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese.  Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.  There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence among U. S. children and adolescents.  In 2007-2008, Hispanic boys aged 2-19 years were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys, and non-Hispanic black girls were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).  In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39% had two or more.  Obese children are at grater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Obese children may show other signs of poor nutrition, including iron deficiency and anemia.  For low-income children, obesity may be associated with household food insecurity.  Children's Health Fund

Efforts that work to improve the health and wellness status of poor children must include nutritional concerns.  Food pantries, food banks, community health clinics, public policy leaders, economic development organizations, farmers' markets, urban farmers and neighborhood associations must work to improve access to better and more choices in food selection for poor families. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. It is hard to understand, because it seems counterintuitive, that poverty has a positive correlation with obesity. It seems like, if youre obese, you need less food, not more. But, as you point out, it's not that simple. You need better, more expensive, food, not just less food. As well as better habits, like exercise.

Similarly with cigarettes. The poor are much more likely to smoke despite the cost. A combination of immediate gratification in difficult circumstances and bad examples leading to bad, unhealthy habits.

But what's the fix? As with public education,there are so many cross-factors, it's hard to know where one would start to make this problem better.