Posts Tagged ‘socioeconomic status’

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Poverty, Nutrition, and Obesity

October 26, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

I recently found myself engaged in a rather heated discussion with a friend who was lamenting the quality of food that she can buy with her relatively meager paycheck.  She was justifiably upset that the best calorie value  for her money was off-brand macaroni and cheese which she could buy for $1/box and which would feed her for four meals.

Shepherd Market by Mr. T In DC

Her experience is far from unique.  In many urban locations, there isn’t any kind of a grocery store for residents to shop at; corner stores and fast food are the only options.  Even where there is good access to a wide selection of foods, the fact is that, as my friend knows all too well, healthy food is simply more expensive than lower-quality but more calorically dense options.

It seems contradictory that we so often hear lamentations of the obesity epidemic in the United States (see the statistics available from obesity.org) followed on the heels of reports about increasing rates of malnutrition (see Hunger in the U.S.).  Aren’t these things mutually exclusive?  They are, of course, not.  When the goal is to get as many calories as possible on as few dollars as possible, the sacrifice that often has to be made is nutrition.  The end result is that people who come from “food insecure households” may well be overweight and malnourished at the same time.

There is no clear-cut answer to this social problem.  Some of the problem is education, and it is here that we see the inextricable links between poverty, education, health, and opportunity.  My friend has the benefit of a good education; part of the reason she is so upset at her situation is that she knows that the affordable choices available to her are also ones that are detrimental to her overall health.  In other cases, however, the individuals in this situation are suffering the double whammy of ignorance of the healthy choices to make plus the lack of healthy choices available to them.  Availability of healthy food, regardless of cost, is another problem; even if a person wants to make good nutritional choices, if there are no stores offering those choices to them, they are left with little choice but to buy less-healthy foods.  The daily-life constraints placed upon the poor are also a factor.  Imagine that you are a single parent working multiple jobs in order to support your family.  You may simply not have time to cook nutritional meals for them and opt instead for fast food.

If the problem of poverty and nutrition is so complex, the solution must also be multi-faceted.  In a sense, nutrition serves as a lens into the more general experience of the urban poor in America.

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