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Being Poor Leads to Being Fat

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Being Poor Can Lead to Being Fat

By: Genevia Holmes

Could you imagine having a stroke at 26 years of age? What about having the medicine cabinet of a senior citizen at the age of 20? Can this happen to anyone you ask, the answer to this question is yes and it has happened to a Valerie Moore of Holmes County, Mississippi. Valerie unfortunately lives in one of Mississippi’s poorest areas. Valerie weighs 241 lbs. and contributes her weight gain to eating unhealthy foods. Obesity is a major public health problem in the U.S. While all segments of population are affected, low-income and food insecure people are more vulnerable due to risks associated with poverty. In Valerie’s case that is what happened. Since having the stroke Valerie has lost 70lbs but says it’s a struggle to provide whole nutritious meals if you have only $5.00 and you need to stretch it to feed yourself and 2 children. (Elliot, 2011).
Obesity occurs in many households in America due to a lack of resources such as income, affordable foods and opportunity for physical activity. According to Center for Disease Control over the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. More than one-third of Adults and 17% of children in the U.S are obese. Americans find it easier and cheaper to provide filler foods loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other additives for their family so they can be full. In America 14.5 percent of people are struggling to put food on the table. (Coleman-Jensen, Nord, Andrews & Carlson, 2011). Food insecurity is a condition that exists when people lack sustainable physical or economic access to enough safe, nutritious, and socially acceptable foods for a healthy and productive life. Most families of lower incomes rely on food stamps and their paychecks to provide food for their families.(Institute of Medicine , 2011). A burger off the dollar menu at McDonald’s or Burger King sounds more appealing to those with limited income then a salad that may cost much more. A theory called “food stamp cycle” is where a family will use their food stamps or paycheck resources until they are depleted. When depleted there is an involuntary restriction of food. The hypothesis suggests obesity occurs when food is depleted and they accessible again when the next paycheck or food stamps arrive. When this happens people tend to binge since not being able to do so, thus causing weight gain. (Townsend, 2001).
Another reason that obesity occurs is having very little to choose from food wise. The diet of food insecure people tends to be less healthy. Families opt for canned fruits and vegetables that are loaded with salt and sugar, soda that is now cheaper than 100% fruit juice, and filling burgers and other goods off dollar menu at local restaurants. People also have less access to fully stocked grocery stores the sell a wide range of foods, fruits and vegetables. Many that live in low-income neighborhoods have corner convenience stores that are stocked with high processed pre-packaged foods to feed their families. ("Food insecurity and," 2011). Some research suggests that obesity occurs due to having a great “food environment”. Our food environment is based on surrounding influences. It suggests that how food prepared at home, what we eat at work, who we eat with, and what is available in neighborhoods and schools plays an influential role in how we eat and gain weight. ("Toxic food environment,"). Living in the U.S. it’s easy to see where this theory is plausible. We live in a country that has access to many restaurants that serve fatty foods every day. Convience is a major factor involved with a lot of foods sold in grocery stores. It’s easier to buy oreos versus making homemade chocolate chip cookies. Even with this research studies conclude that higher rates of obesity were found in low-income and racial/ethnic minority groups, and that healthy diet education campaigns fail to reach them. ("Toxic food environment,"). Some also think that that the rise in obesity is due to having a great economy. Professor Tomas J. Philipson, an economics professor who studies obesity at the University of Chicago says “We would rather take improvement in technology and agriculture than go back to the way we lived in the 1950’s when everyone was thin. Nobody wants to sweat at work for 10 hours a day and be poor. Yes you are obese, but you have a life that is much more comfortable.” (Rosenwald, 2006). With technology being what it is today it’s very easy to see how this statement is true. Food is always being tested and changed and in today’s market it seems their focus is on making it better. The oils and fats that were used are being changed to be healthier. More and more companies are cashing in on the 100 calorie packs, reduced fat products, fat free products and the marketing of organic foods for consumers. The focus seems to be on helping consumers eat healthier when manufacturers know they were part of the problem to begin with.
Most Americans that are poor are usually working two jobs to have income to feed their family thus giving them the lack of time to exercise to help curb the weight gain from the foods they are ingesting. They also live in poor urban neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables daily. They may not have access to transportation that would allow them to go and buy nutritious foods. These families also rely on government programs such as SNAP and WIC to buy their family groceries to eat from month to month. As of August 2011 there were 45.8 people that participate in SNAP benefits and 85% of these people make less than $24,000 a year. (USDA, 2011). Representatives in Congress wanting to cut costs and reallocate funds it will cut almost $90.00 a month per household receiving funds that could buy better foods.(The Associated Press, 2012). The solutions to these problems are simple, get the government involved to raise minimum wage, welfare benefits, and provide tax cuts and proper technology based products to accept SNAP and WIC benefits.
The people in need are productive members of society. Over one-third of the adults needing assistance are working members of society. (USDA, 2011). A solution to this problem would be for the government to raise minimum wage. Raising minimum wage would reduce the amount of people in poverty and would allow them to be able to buy foods that are healthier. This would allow for people to come off of the SNAP and WIC programs. It would also allow for them to afford the healthier food items needed for a good diet.
The government could also give those participating in SNAP more money in benefits each month. The average family on SNAP benefits receives $284.00 per month.(USDA, 2011). If we were to increase these benefits then families could afford to make better choices in regard to their diet. This would help the in the fight of Obesity and other diseases caused by the consumption of bad foods, it would also cut down on yearly medical cost associated with those illnesses.
It is also recommended that we reach out to the rural urban communities and educate them on healthier food choices. Doctors need to sit down with patients and explain what the food their eating is doing to their body. Nutritionists need to reach out and help people by showing them which foods are better for them and possibly helping them with a budget plan to show that you can live month to month on a healthy diet. Classes can also be given when people sign up for SNAP & WIC benefits to help aid people also. If these changes are implemented then obesity can be stopped maybe for this generation and for our children as well.
Another suggestion would be adapt programs and tax cuts for grocers to move into neighborhoods that lack access to healthy foods. This would provide the resident of poor urban neighborhoods with a grocery stored that carried healthier food choices needed to help them lose weight and help curb obesity in children. Moving into poorer urban neighborhoods will also provide people with job opportunities that they may not have. It will lower the unemployment rate and boost the economy also. In New York lawmakers are focusing on the health of the residents to help with health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. They found this solution very helpful and are expanding to various urban neighborhoods in New York. (Caldwell, 2009).
Finally the Government should also encourage farmer markets fruit and vegetable cart holders to accept SNAP benefits and WIC benefits, and allocate funds so that farmers can have the proper equipment to accept these forms of payments. (Sanchez, Burns, Annina, 2009). If these changes were implemented then fruits and vegetables would be available to those living in poorer neighborhoods. People will be more likely to buy if they had the option of using their SNAP or WIC benefits. Farmers that had fruit and vegetable carts would likely visit urban neighborhood more if they had other ways of accepting payment options.
In conclusion poverty can lead to obesity. Lack of financial resources prevents Americans from being able to feed their families nutritious foods. If the government decides to cut money out of programs such as SNAP and WIC and not implement changes that will help families then the cycle of obesity will continue and people will continue to eat unhealthy. We need to take action and ask for better wages to help with poverty people face. We need to ask that programs like SNAP and WIC receive funds needed to feed those dependent on them. We need to educate people on the benefits of a healthy diet. If we as a people became more concerned for the poor and food insecure then many of the nutritional problems of those in poverty won’t exist. This needs to be done so the cycle of obesity can end and poverty can be erased.

Cardwell, D. (2009, September 24). A Plan To Add Supermarkets, and Fresh Food, To the City’s
Poorer Neighborhoods. New York Times. p.33.

Center for Disease Control. (n.d.). Overweight and obesity facts. Retrieved from Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., & Carlson, S. (2011). Household Food Security in the United
States in 2010. Retrieved from report/err125.aspx
Democracy in Action.(2011). Food insecurity and obesity: Understanding the connections.
FRAC,April 2011(3), Retrieved from
Elliot, D. (9, August 2011). Tackling Obesity Amid Poverty in a Mississippi county. Retrieved from Institute of Medicine (2011). Hunger and obesity : Understanding a food insecurity paradigm— workshop summary. Washington DC USA: National Academies Press
Rosenwald, M. S. (2006, Janurary 22). Why America has to be fat. The Washington Post. Retrieved from The Associated Press. (2012, 06 18). Republicans want food stamps cut in big farm bill. Consumer
Electronics Net. Retrieved from want-food-stamps-cut-in-big-farm-bill-2077831 Townsend, M. (2001). Food insecurity is positively related to overweight women. Journal of Nutrition, 131, 1798-1745. Retrieved from
USDA. (2011). Building a healthy america: A profile of the supplemental nutrition assistance program. Retrieved from
Toxic food environment. (n.d.). Retrieved from source/obesity-causes/food-environment-and-obesity/ Sanchez, E., Burns, L., & Annina, C. (2009). Local Government Actions To Prevent Childhood
Obesity. Washington DC USA: National Academies Press

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