Poverty and Obesity

Obesity is a problem that most people would assume is caused by laziness and poor lifestyle choices. Rarely would anyone think that poverty could be a contributing factor to obesity. A large question often asked is “How can our impoverished communities be so fat if they cannot afford to eat”? Other misconceptions come from the misunderstanding that people who are malnourished should appear skinny and lethargic, where malnutrition is a lack of proper nutrition that not only could lead to starvation, but can lead to weight gain as well.

When identifying the association of poverty to obesity, there are many sociological, as well as environmental factors that contribute to the explosion of the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our nation. There is now a vast amount of data that range from simple sociological observations, to independent, and governmental case studies that would also suggest the connection to being poor, and being overweight cannot simply be attributed making poor lifestyle choices or being lazy alone.

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With the overwhelming amount of evidence that connects poverty to obesity, there should be a focus on better nutritional education, supported by regulations that would provide low-income communities with the access to healthier foods along with mandates that would provide better nutritional options to choose from. In these modern times, one only needs to tune into any media outlet to be bombarded with advertising of all forms of products.

The majority of these ads are dominated by food advertising. From TV and radio, to the internet, there is a non-stop stream of ads pushing corn chips and candy, as well as featured menu items of fast food chains. People learn from advertising, that it is socially acceptable to gorge on unhealthy foods, and that a “Happy Meal” is okay for every meal.

One of the most problematic mechanisms is the use of advertising aimed at children. A report to the congress in 2004, suggested that “trends in the use of children’s favorite media characters to help sell foods may well be a link to advertising and obesity” and was reinforced by Surgeon General Richard Carmona who had said “Over the past 20 years, the rates of overweight oubled in children and tripled among adolescents,” with the result that “15 percent of American adults are overweight or obese” this same report also contained a statement from Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who said “companies use aggressive and sophisticated techniques, including contests, prizes, Web sites, television and magazine ads, to market foods to children“ (Rich, Spencer. (2004), p8-9, 2p).

While there are no conclusive studies proving claims that advertising is a cause of obesity, the evidence is highly suggestive that marketing and advertising is playing a major role in the obesity epidemic by using such cartoon characters as Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny to sell everything from macaroni and cheese, to candy. The advertisers have learned that this form of marketing to children will not only make them lifelong loyal customers, but it also pressures the parents to spend their money on these products when the children beg and plead, and can ultimately cause them to consume these products as well.

As these products are cheap and can be found in almost any store, it is easy people to rationalize the compared cost and quantity of these foods to their healthier alternatives to be justifiable sources of food to feed a family, particularly for the low-income providers. This form of advertising has been extended in to the public school system where they further influence children along with the choices they are provided in the lunch line. Public schools have long been a source of influence on what people will choose to eat both as kids, and adults later in life.

Children are given options such as corndogs, pizza, doughnuts, and chicken nuggets that are presented as healthy nutritional foods. This will influence them throughout their academic lives and then follow them into adulthood where they will turn to these foods as staples. This is also compounded by the use of advertising and selling junk food products in hallway vending machines, as well as soft drink contracts with manufacturers such as Coke-a-Cola, and Pepsi. Public schools have turned to these businesses as a way to increase funding to their already stretched budgets.

The revenues generated by these sales help support school sports, art, and other extra-curricular activities that are no longer funded by state or federal sources due to fiscal cut backs. The food programs, however, continue to be funded by public tax money, and “still uses guidelines on nutrition from the 1970’s set forth by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, where the aim is to reduce the amount of sugar in school foods but does not address the issues of fat, or calorie content in those foods” (Barlow, B.

Griswold, A. (2011), P1-1, 8-9p). Indeed the use of aggressive advertising campaigns that are viewed constantly by children whether they are at school, at home, or out in public areas will have a lasting effect on how children will view and select the foods they eat. These issues are also complicated into adulthood as the available selection of food is further reduced to that which is found in the low-income communities in which they reside.

In the majority of low-income communities, there is an overabundant number of fast food restaurants, as well as a vast number of convenience stores where there is usually a large selection of high calorie, high carbohydrate, sugar loaded fatty foods with little to no positive nutritional value. There is a noticeable lack of large grocery outlets that provide access to fresh meat, fruits\, and vegetables. These “food Deserts” also contribute to the obesity problem by limiting what people with little income and transportation capabilities are available to purchase.

In an article from the Washington Informer, the director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is cited as saying “calorie-rich/vitamin-deficient food sources in low-income neighborhoods are contributors to the disproportionate health issues faced by residents of these communities, including obesity. ” This article also cites a study conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture that found more than 23 million Americans, including 6. 5 million children, live in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods where the closest supermarket is more than one mile from their homes (Karim, Talib I. (12/15/2011), p18-18, 7p).

Without ease of access to quality fresh foods, these communities have come to rely on the closest shopping choices they have in order to fill the stomachs of their families. Even when shopping at grocery stores, many low-income families are turning to low-cost highly processed foods simply for affordability as much of the healthier fresh foods are simply too expensive to purchase when shopping on a very small budget. It usually costs less to purchase a bag of frozen processed chicken (which could be eaten for several days by a small family) as it would to purchase a single fresh chicken that would be consumed in a single meal.

The rising cost of fresh produce adds to this problem by further limiting the types of food choices that could be made to feed poor families. This indicates a need to limit the amount of fast food chains in geographical locations, provide incentive for businesses to open grocery stores, and further limitations on what foods can be purchased with social assistance programs. This shows that there is a need to modify or add restrictions to foods that can be purchased with social programs such as food stamps.

Often low-income families that rely on social assistance will use food stamps to purchase cookies, hotdogs, boxed macaroni and cheese, soda pop, snack chips, and many other unhealthy food items. These types of food should be severely restricted or limited. Mandating the purchase of fresh produce, milk, eggs, and fresh meats will help improve the nutritional health of families that must utilize social assistance. It is the responsibility of government to ensure the health of the people that are using public assistance.

In order to make a positive change in the reduction of obesity, there should be a primary focus on nutritional education. This education certainly needs to start in the public school system and should also extend into social services to aid in teaching better nutrition to low-income families. A social services food pantry in Medford Oregon is attempting to provide this education to the community they serve by giving ideas and recipes for healthier preparations to the food they supply to those who need it. An article highlighting the problem of obesity in Jackson County shows how Access Inc. s achieving the goal of better nutrition using this method. They have recently implemented a program designed to provide education on how the foods they provide affect their clients’ weight, and health, along with how to improve their nutrition from the resources available. The director of one food pantry, Philip Yates, had stated in a case where they had received three thousand pounds of winter squash; “We mashed it and froze it in our commercial kitchen and passed it out with suggestions for recipes, like adding a couple cups to soup”.

This has been supported by the statement “Food pantry directors such as Bratton hand out recipes for how to use produce such as turnips, which some clients may never have eaten or don’t know how to prepare” (Achen, Paris. (12/1/2010). These programs introduce healthier foods that most people in low-income communities have no idea how to implement into their diets. Being able to show the public how to utilize healthy foods that they are unfamiliar with is an important step in educating these communities by demonstrating that they can prepare healthy meals with affordable alternatives to low cost foods such as ramen noodles.

Foods such as rice and beans are cheap provide the carbohydrates desired through the rice, and protein from the beans with far less sodium and fat that is contained in the ramen. This is a good start, but these programs need to be supplemented by changes to the public schools nutritional education programs, and foods they provide at breakfast, and lunch. It seems somewhat hypocritical to teach children to make healthier foods choices, then to provide them with ready access to vending machines that dispense candy bars, and snack chips.

Compounding this hypocrisy is the foods served in the lunch lines. It is improbable that children will choose healthier foods when they are supplied with highly processed foods such as corndogs, and pizza. These types of food must be removed from the cafeteria lineup, and be replaced with fruits and vegetables. While it is unlikely that hamburgers or pizza will be erased from the selections, it is possible to make these foods healthier by using healthier ingredients to make them.

The use of common Iceberg lettuce (that has virtually no nutritional value) can be replaced with Romaine lettuce, along with fresh tomatoes, and reduced use of condiments such as mayonnaise and sugar loaded ketchup. On pizza there can be the use of fresh made tomato sauce or even pre-canned sauces that have a very limited amount of sugar and artificial ingredients. This change in nutritional education will eventually lead to children making better food choices as they mature. The next step leads to the need for easier access to fresh foods in low-income neighborhoods.

There is an obvious problem with many low-income communities that have access to a very limited amount of fresh, healthy foods. There is a need to address the issues of “food Deserts” where these communities have high access to food sources such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell, and 7 Eleven, but little access to grocery markets that offer access to fresh produce and meat. A statement by Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, “certain stores tend not to locate in areas where they don’t believe there is adequate demand by their target customers to support them,” (Karim, Talib I. 12/15/2011), Issue 9, p18-18) shows that there needs to be incentives presented to businesses to open stores in these communities. These incentives could include tax breaks for small business, or mandates to large corporate stores to open small stores in the hearts of low-income areas. Another approach to dealing with the problem of obesity that would coincide with access to healthier foods would be to place regulations on fast food chains. These regulations should limit the quantity as well as locations of fast food restaurants in geographical locations.

This idea is already being implemented in large urban areas such as Los Angeles and other large cities throughout the U. S. By providing better access to quality nutrition and limiting access (in theory) should help low-income communities make healthier choices. This leaves the issue of marketing and advertising to be approached. Advertising has long sought to be in front of every person at all times in order to keep the attention of the consumer. There is no safe refuge from marketing campaigns, especially those aimed at children.

In a report describing how marketing targets children states the obvious problem “Many American schools have faced serious financial difficulties in recent decades. Cuts in government spending, opposition to tax increases, and increasing enrollments have left some schools gasping for funds. When food and soft drink manufacturers began offering thousands of dollars for the privilege of getting their products and advertisements into the schools, many districts rushed to sign up” (Libal, A. (2005), p56-69, 4-6p). This demonstrates a need to remove non-academic advertising from the school system altogether.

Children are influenced constantly by advertising from the moment they wake up; to the moment they go to sleep. By removing advertising from schools, along with mandating a change to how marketing is presented to children, particularly in the use of popular cartoon characters to get attention, there will be a removal of a medium that undermines the positive nutritional education that is taught at school as well as at home by parents. The time has come for all communities to stand up and recognize the environmental influences that are helping to perpetuate obesity in the American society.

It is particularly distressing to see stereo types being placed on low-income communities (which have little options on what they have access to for sustenance and affordability) as being lazy and ignorant. It is time as well to send a clear message to advertisers that they need to stop brainwashing children in believing that there junk foods are healthy and fun snacks and kick them out of the public education forum. By modifying the way youth are educated on nutrition, and providing easier, more affordable access to quality food in the poorest communities, there would be a marked mprovement in the health of society over time. This will lead to a reduction of diabetes cases, as well as overall health care costs, and will also empower children to make better nutritional choices as adults who in turn will provide their children with better nutritional education. While these ideas are in no way perfect, they can provide a foundation that could change the sociological values put on certain foods, and lifestyle choices that would have long lasting, positive consequences for future generations to build upon.

References

Achen, Paris. (12/1/2010) Battling Poverty and Obesity. Mail Tribune (Medford, OR). Retrieved from: http://search. ebscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true&db=pwh&AN=2W63681013039&site=pov-live Barlow, B. Griswold, A. (2011) Points of View: Junk Food in Schools, P1-1. Retrieved from http://search. ebscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true&db=pwh&AN=23463659&site=pov-live Karim, Talib I. (12/15/2011). ‘Food Deserts’ Causing Obesity In Low-Income Communities. Washington Informer, Volume 47, Issue 9, p18-18.

Retrieved from http://search. ebscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true&db=pwh&AN=70186361&site=pov-live Libal, A. (2005) Too Big to Fit? Social discrimination & Body Size, p56-69, 4-6p. Retrieved from: http://search. ebscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true&db=pwh&AN=15689213&site=pov-live Rich, Spencer. (3/3/2004), Advertising Aimed At Children Blamed For Increasing Obesity. Congress Daily AM, p8-9, 2p. Retrieved from http://search. ebscohost. com. proxy. devry. edu/login. aspx? direct=true&db=pwh&AN=12427122&site=pov-live

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