Does Poverty Lead To Obesity?

Does Poverty Lead To Obesity?

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Poverty lead to Obesity

A recent article from AOL Health cites a study from the University of Washington that found that the percentage of obese shoppers is almost 10 times higher at low-cost grocery stores compared with more upscale stores and that poverty is the key reason.  The article is basically claiming that obesity is an economic problem.

Having shown that is is possible to eat healthy on a budget, this article doesn’t sit right with me.

It’s kind of like saying that crime goes up as ice-cream sales increase.  Is there some hidden ingredient in that pint of Haagen Dazs that drives people to criminal acts?  Or is there another variable – summertime – that links crime and ice-cream and is the true impetus of the higher crime rate?  It’s obvious that the long hot days of summer are the missing link and ice-cream sales and the crime rate are not connected.

Similarly, I’m suggesting that it is not poverty that is driving obesity but another “missing link” that is connected to both.

And that missing link is education.

And to be clear, I acknowledge economics will play a large role in where you purchase groceries – you won’t be shopping at Whole Foods if your income is low.  But even at a discount grocery store, you can make the choice of apples over Apple Jacks.

Having hit some tough economic times myself recently (remember, I’m bankrupt!) I understand the challenges of eating healthy on a tight budget.  Below are a few tips that have helped me keep things as healthy as possible without breaking the bank.

Does Poverty Lead To Obesity?

#1 Prepare Your Own Vegetables

I love the convenience of pre-cut veggies.  Broccoli florets in a bag, pre-washed baby spinach in a bag, pre-peeled carrots in a bag – all great for time-saving in the kitchen.  But you do pay a higher price for the time saving.  So if you are in a situation where your money is tight, then you have to spend another currency – your time.  Buy the whole head of broccoli and cut it yourself.  Buy loose spinach leaves and wash and cut them yourself (I like to use scissors).  Peel your own damned carrots.  The extra labor will keep things lighter on your wallet.

#2 The Incredible Edible Egg

You can get a dozen large eggs for about $2.00 in many grocery stores.  And don’t waste any of that money you spent – eat the damned yolks!  They are proven to help you lose belly fat

#3 The Other White Meat

Pork loin is almost always significantly cheaper than chicken breast or beef.  So if you’re down with the swine, it can be a cheaper source of protein.

#4 Bend The Rules

I’m not a big fan of dairy.  And I’m not a big fan of potatoes.  But these are two sources that can really stretch your food dollars.  So go ahead an buy that big-ass bag of potatoes.  Go ahead and get that gallon of whole milk.  Although these diversions from my normal recommendations might not be ideal for your simple diet plan efforts, they are still a hell of a lot better than cheap bread or pasta.  And they are WAY better than some pre-packaged mac and cheese or ramen noodle crap.

I’m going to stick my neck out there and say that poverty is not an excuse for obesity.

I’ll stick it out there even further and say that neither is lack of education – libraries are still free and as long as you can read, the basic knowledge of a healthy diet is easily accessible.

What do you think? 

Is there a link between poverty and obesity? 

What tips do you have to eat healthy on a budget? 

Let me know in the comments below.

Gym Junkies

Founder at Gym Junkies LLC
Owner & Founder at Gym Junkies LLC
After changing his best friend’s life by helping him lose over 70lbs, dropping him down to an amazing 7% body fat, Terry was inspired to be a full-time internet trainer knowing he could do the same for many more. In 2010, Terry published his own diet and fitness e-book that can be purchased on this website. Let Terry help you change your body for the better!

18 COMMENTS

  1. You make a good point, and I agree that it’s more correlation than causation. But there’s one more thing to consider. The old saying is that money doesn’t buy happiness, but the other half of that is that poverty doesn’t guarantee it. On the other side of that however, poverty can very easily create apathy. I remember an episode of Roseanne (of all places) where they won a multi-million dollar lottery. They talk about all the things they’re going to buy. Roseanne at one point mentioned getting a nutritionist and a trainer and says, “Now that we have this money, I want to LIVE.” Poverty can lead to hopelessness, and hopelessness can lead to an inability to care.

  2. Interesting point of view.
    Something I always read in articles from the fat acceptance community is the food desert situation in the US, that it is very difficult to buy fruit/veg in poor urban areas.
    I don’t know anything about the US supermarket situation, but here in Germany, which is the fattest European country, it is really easy to buy cheap produce, because evben the poorest neighbourhoods have discount supermarkets and lots of little turkish fruit/veg shops with low prices.
    I think lack of education, especially lack of cooking skills is a bigger problem over here as well.

  3. For me, it’s calories in vs calories out. I try to eat as clean as possible, pack my own lunch, I follow Martin Berkhan’s leangains approach and eat at my BMR, letting my activities
    burn of my excess body fat. I’ve now lost 3% in 3 weeks and am now 10% body fat. I intend to switch to maintenance caloric intake after I’ve hit 7%.

    Anyway, I agree with you – you save money by eating less, not by wasting money on energy bars
    and cans of hazelnut spread and white bread. Vegetables and fruits are reasonably priced, so what are their complaints about? You’ve got it: just excuses!

  4. Good article Vic,

    The habits of successful people don’t just apply to business. You might be broke now, but that doesn’t make you poor.
    That same drive, determination and overall hunger for knowledge that got you where you are today is reflective not just of your health, but how you conduct your whole life.
    Rare is the day I meet someone who’s obese but successful in every other aspect of their life.
    I’m guessing that if a person has the intelligence and the time to commit to an elite level of wellness, they’ve also got the time and intelligence to figure out how not to live in poverty.

    Grok on!

  5. yeah, this one is a tough issue. it may not cause obesity in adults….but cheap calories are DEADLY. Living in the ‘hood’, I see it every day. The horrible oil is cheapest to fry in. There are food trucks on every block selling tons of cheap pastries and candy. There are a plethora of fast food joints in the area. You can walk and get 5 … See Moreburgers for $5! Or walk 4x as far and get some chicken, walk back and cook it. People walk around selling corn, covered in cheese and mayo, and tamales, and fried puffy crap!! If youre broke, u probably eat free school lunches, which are hideous. You come home to a 3 liter bottle of soda from the $1 store. There is definitely a direct connection in at least the youth, and families with children….which is the majority around here.
    It’s sad, and I do my best to educate people willing to listen. Trust me, it sucks….I see it…and since my nephew has become a big part of my life…it hurts even more to see other kids suffering. Youre right, it is the education….and sometimes I want to literally grab some parents by the neck and say “YOU ARE KILLING OUR CHILDREN!”

  6. In the city where I live there are no grocery stores in the poorest neighborhoods. Many of these people don’t have cars or access to a store that sells healthy foods, and must rely on the local convenience stores and abundant, cheap, fast food to supply them with their meals. (If you don’t have a car and there are 3 McGristle Burger fast-food restaurants within walking distance, doesn’t a $1 burger seem like a good choice?)
    Often, if a convenience store does sell produce, it is expensive and of poor quality, which makes it less likely to be chosen over processed food that is cheaper and more readily available. (There are kids who show up in the elementary school here who do not know what a fresh pear looks like because they’ve never seen one.)
    We are fortunate to have a Farmer’s Market that was opened in the low-income part of town several years ago, with easy access for many people. The market accepts food stamps, and sales have climbed yearly. A local group provides classes on healthy eating, fresh food preparation, and provides little to no-cost raised bed gardens and gardening mentors to low-income families.
    What do people do in low-income communities that don’t have programs like this?
    Access, affordability, and education are key in helping people to feed themselves well.

  7. Hey Vic,

    I think that poverty can be a contributing CAUSAL factor to obesity in the following ways:

    1. Most people don’t know how to eat healthy for cheap. As a result, spending less money on food typically leads to poor food choices such as the Ramen noodles and Big Macs.

    Of course, if they just learned how to eat healthy for cheap this wouldn’t happen…but since most people won’t, then their diets will continue to be frustrated because of lack of money.

    2. It gives you a handy excuse you can fall back on whenever you fail. “I need to save money now — I’ll lose weight later.” “Let me just handle this money thing first, THEN I’ll worry about losing weight.”

    3. It psychologically depresses you to be poor and affects your emotional state. This makes you more vulnerable to making poor food choices because you feel bad.

    4. Poverty erodes your self-esteem. This makes you more likely to choose poor foods because you’re not sure that you’re really worth the effort to eat healthy — and you’re not sure that you are even capable of it since you’ve failed in so many other things.

    5. Most of your friends are probably poor if you are poor, and because of factors 1-4 a disproportionate number of them are fat. Even those who aren’t fat will probably make fun of you for eating healthy, and make poor food choices themselves.

    I think for an educated individual, you can definitely be in great shape no matter how much money you have. But speaking for people as a whole (who will not educate themselves) poverty will always increase obesity among the poor population.

    And even if you are educated, having money gives you a nice psychological boost to stay in great shape. You feel like “I have this money stuff handled — now I KNOW I can handle my body, and I don’t have to worry too much about anything else.”

    Mike Chang’s Fitness Blog

  8. Ok Vic. I agree with you that education is key but your viewpoint leaves out many factors. Sure, people can go to the library and research about healthy eating however if you aren’t sure you’ll eat AT ALL that day, hitting the books sure as hell isn’t going to make the priority list. You also have to take into account that poverty is cyclical and in general those living in poverty are 3rd or 4th generation to live that way and in a situation where you have difficulty meeting basic needs the focus and mindset isn’t on the future, it’s on the day to day. Now generation after generation of that tends to create an entirely different culture of thought.
    Have you ever shopped at the discount grocery stores?? Other than Aldi I mean because Aldi does have a great selection of fresh fruit and veggies. EVERYTHING is processed and dyed and filled with every imaginable unhealthy ingredient. If that is all that you see and all that you know of what there is to buy at a grocery store and that’s all your Mom knows and your grandma knows, then that’s what you eat and it’s not going to occur to you to head down to the library. When you don’t have a car and you may not even have bus fare, you’re going to eat what is there and what is there is crap.
    Also, many people living in poverty have to rely on food banks and don’t even have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat. I work with an impoverished population who often rely on food banks for survival and it is extremely difficult for people to find healthy food. Sometimes there are fresh fruit and veggies but not enough to rely on. Imagine trying to eat a diabetic diet from the food bank.
    Education is undoubtedly vital but it must hit from all sides and infiltrate the culture of the poverty stricken AND healthy food must be eaily accessible. It’s completely unrealistic to think people struggling day to day are going to the library to learn about nutrition.

  9. Well said “Six Pack Abs Blog”. Poverty can re-create the choice making that leads to a defeated outlook on diet: The $1 Value Meal vs the $1 large Fuji apple.

  10. About time somebody addressed this issue – thanks Vic!

    I have to say there does appear to be an undeniable link but for me there is no excuse. Logically, if anybody was realy struggling that badly for money, surely they would be thinner because they cannot afford enough food? Unless you are that poor, I think there are plenty of healthy diet practices that you can use – you mention many good ideas!

    Poverty does not need to mean a habbit for buying processed food or takeaways…

  11. WTF is Grok on about??? No succesful fat people in the world eh?? What thin town to you live in then?? Ever needed a lawyer?? Ever been to Texas?? Where do you think the saying ‘fat cats’ comes from? lol arse!

    I agree with mostly everyone. Its about education (or lack of) and choice. But mostly I agree with Vic’s point, you CAN eat well on a budget. It’s just people, of all income brackets, choose not to! Simples!

    Tusc 🙂

  12. As some have noted, part of the problem isn’t the lack of money per se, but the culture of poverty. Vic’s hitting some tough financial straits at the moment, but he’s an educated, middle-class guy who has fallen on hard times. There’s a world of difference between that and someone who hasn’t had the same education and upbringing.

    Calorie per calorie, unhealthy food is cheaper *unless* you a) know what you’re doing w.r.t. cooking and b) you already have a kitchen that’s somewhat well-equipped.

    Nothing fancy is required, but if your apartment has a hot plate, a tiny fridge and no oven or stove, and you don’t have even a cheap set of pots and pans and seasonings and oils, until you get over the initial start-up costs and errors (which waste food) while you learn to cook, it’s going to be easier and cheaper to hit McDonald’s, especially if you have picky kids to feed. If you don’t have a car, you’re not going to be able to get out to the store with all the nice produce and discounts; you’ll end up paying more for inferior quality produce at the local minimart, and if you only have a few bucks a day, that $1 over-ripe banana really isn’t your best deal.

    Most middle-class people don’t know how to eat well, either, but when they decide to start learning how, they’re probably in a house or nice apartment, with a car, in an area with well-stocked grocery stores, and enough of an income cushion that if they buy a new veggie and end up hating it or burning their dinner, they won’t go hungry that week.

    That’s why I disagree that saying “the public library is free” is sufficient advice. Two things that helped around here: equipping the farmer’s market in the city so it could accept EBT so people could have access to good produce, and the local church putting on a free cooking class that took into account the kinds of equipment people were likely to have at home.

  13. For whatever reason, I’m having some technical problems making threaded comments to most of the comments on this post. So I’m just going to make one overall comment here. . .

    First, BIG THANKS to everyone keeping it classy on this post. I knew this was going to be an emotionally charged topic, and I appreciate everyone stating their opinions while keeping things friendly.

    Second, for those of you who wanted to be a little less “friendly” in your responses, I appreciate you directing those to my email box and not flaming me on my website. Yes, I got several pieces of hate mail over this post – but it all came to me via email and even though those readers strongly disagree with me and wanted to give me a piece of their mind, they also exhibited great class by keeping it “for my eyes only”.

    And finally, upon further reflection on the topic I do not think education is the magic answer. I think Brandon makes a great point in that apathy can be a huge influence and difficult to overcome. That being said, I still think it comes down to either not knowing any better (an education issue), or knowing better but not caring (an apathy issue).

    If someone is obese they ARE eating to get that way. Even assuming that the only food available is the worst processed crap on the planet, obesity could be greatly reduced by simply eating less of it. On this point I stand firm – you have to eat A LOT to get obese. If you have to rely on the cheapest box of mac and cheese you can find for sustenance, fine. But PLEASE consider reducing your portions and eating a hell of a lot less of it.

  14. Watch some of the historical footage of the Civil Rights Movement and you will see for yourself…poverty and obesity are not directly related.

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