Study Says Obesity Is a Poor People Problem

Illustration for article titled Study Says Obesity Is a Poor People Problem

Childhood obesity is a socioeconomic issue. According to a new study, Harvard University researchers found that children with better educated parents are less likely to become overweight because they are more active. On the other hand, in the shadows of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to fight obesity, the program's benefits aren't reaching "poorer, less well-educated families" where childhood weight gain, not exercise, is rising.


The correlation begins in small numbers with kids between 2-11 years old but as they reach their teens the differences become stark.

In 2003, 86.6% of adolescents living with parents who had college degrees told survey-takers that they had exercised or played a sport for at least 20 minutes continuously sometime in the last seven days. By 2011, 90.1% said they had done so.

By contrast, 79.8% of adolescent children with parents who did not go beyond high school said in 2003 that they had exercised or played a sport for at least 20 minutes in the last week. By 2011, the numbers of those adolescents who had done so had barely budged, standing at 80.4%.

Obesity, in part, has to do with burning fewer calories than consumed. But it's also about genetics, metabolism (Lord knows I miss mine from my 20s … ) and cultural and environmental factors, says the report. Of course, there's another factor: The lack of reasonably priced healthy food.

Most of us, given the chance and the cash, would buy all-organic everything. But even if I had the opportunity, I swear I'd feel like Diddy at the Golden Globes; I'm not supposed to be here. But what if you can barely afford the non-organic vegetables?

For example, what if you grow up in a home that utilizes SNAP benefits, the state's supplemental nutritional assistance program, and your parent is trying to stretch the approximately $43 per week each of you are allocated for seven days of meals? The food your hypothetical mom can afford won't be the healthiest option. Most likely her choices will fall into the McDonald's range where two people can eat multiple meals and spend about $20. Cheap, yes, but a limp cheeseburger, greasy french fries and a sugary soda won't give a child the protein and nutrients he or she needs for healthy growth, let alone a game of four-square. The fast food menu, packed with preservatives and artery-clogging ingredients, will also contribute to obesity.

So while the lack of exercise in poorer households is a problem, that is exacerbated by little access to affordable healthy food. The game is rigged.


Image via 2xSamara/Shutterstock


All Corgis All the Time

Another inner city agency story.

Volunteers showed up and often expected to see "crack whores"; skin-and-bones women who weighed 80 pounds. We had a few of those, sure, but we had a lot of very overweight people. Volunteers would often tell me they came to feed the hungry, but it was rather obvious that no one was "hungry".

I would have to explain to my volunteer group the challenges of eating healthy. Most volunteer groups wanted to bring "treat" food - hot dogs usually - thinking that those were treat foods in their homes, so it was a treat here. Hot dogs were what were typically served at the agencies when the money ran out, there weren't any volunteers, or the meal coordinator was sick.

Further, the foods donated for the snack bars were all junk food. It's been 5 years, and I still can't eat a doughnut without gagging. It was all we got. Now, true, better than thrown out, but it was pretty tough sometimes. People were hungry, and even more so after coming down after a bender, and they'd eat 10 doughnuts in a sitting because that's all there was until 7pm.

Add to that we had a lot of housed, but poor/mentally ill/very learning disabled/illiterate/elderly people who were regulars. Many were isolated, so the drop in provided them the social aspect. Most of them could not cook beans and lentils for themselves. That required a) attention span b) reading comprehension c) understanding fractions and weights d) proper cooking facilities and equipment.

The #1 lasting change I made at the agency was that I replaced all junk food meals with healthy meals. I didn't allow groups to serve Kraft Dinner and wieners. They served 2 lean protein, 3 vegetable servings, 1 fruit, 2 whole grains, and 1 dairy. Those meals cost a lot more, so I'd work with groups without a lot of money to come up with healthy alternatives within their budgets.

One of my coworkers did a lecture series that explained the skills set necessary to eat better. It was amazing how complicated the process actually is. Did you realize the reason many boxed meals (such as hamburger helper) have pictures on the back of the cooking is for the low literacy people. It's why those meals are so popular.

Anyway, I can go on about this forever. But this actually isn't common knowledge. The bulk of the people who came to volunteer had no clue about the ties of malnutrition to poverty.