Poverty and Obesity

Growing up in a household with three other siblings, welfare supplied the half of our income that my mother couldn’t. As a result of my humble upbringing, I appreciate the world so much more. I was raised to value relationships rather than possessions. There is, however, one item I value more than I should. Food. Although I can not use my childhood as an excuse for my extra pounds, there is evidence that those of us with lower incomes are more likely to become obese.

Now, we all know that poverty itself is not a cause of obesity. In fact, stress and depression are not causes of obesity either. However, all of these factors, including poverty, have an effect on eating behavior and exercise practices.

Adam Drewnowski, Director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington recently held a conference in which he effectively revealed the link between poverty and obesity. Adam states that, “highest rates of obesity and type II diabetes are found among minorities and the working poor.” Let’s face it; America’s waistline just keeps growing. While we have a picture in our heads of poor little children who are just skin and bones, in most cases in America that really is not the truth.

Now, we are all told that it doesn’t cost anything to eat right. That may be the truth; however, the cost of nutritional food is more than the cost of fatty foods. In fact, Adam stated that, “The lowest-cost diets are composed of starches, added sugars, and added fats.” Most healthy foods have less additives making them more costly to produce and more costly to put in your cart.

In addition, an individual with more money to spend on exercise equipment and gym memberships has a better chance of sticking with their exercise program. Without the added variety the lower class individuals are less likely to stick it out in the long run. Many of you who have lost weight did not do so with the first program you tried. Often times you will find one program that is just right for you. What if that program was out of your price range? The truth is eating right and exercising is more costly than doing nothing and eating junk food.

Another factor involves our relationship with food. Growing up with a single parent, my siblings and I were often home alone. Without a parent telling me what was healthy, I ate a lot of junk foods. This has created eating behaviors that I will have to fight to overcome for the rest of my life. In addition, the easiest foods for children to make on their own are microwavable pre-packaged meals. These meals are not packed with nutrients or vitamins that children need to develop tastes for. In my childhood, I spent many long nights imprisoned at the dinner table. In fact, you were not allowed to leave until everything on your plate was finished. In my family, we were taught at an early age to value each meal.

In addition, without the funds required to buy uniforms, memberships, and gear; many lower class teens are left out of sports activities that may provide much needed physical activity. Little League, Boy Scouts, Football Teams and Softball require money that some parents just don’t have. In fact, my mother spent a fortune to buy me at least half of the necessities to join the school orchestra. I had the violin, the bow and that is where it stopped. However, every time I got the urge to ask to join another activity, I was reminded by the monthly payment for my violin that I had already spent my chance.

In addition to our suffering education in nutrition and exercise, many lower class individuals do not attain a high level of education. More importantly, a lack of education may be a contributing factor to obesity. In fact, the Center for the Advancement of Health reports that, “In general, individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to be overweight or obese than better-educated individuals.” Now, this may be linked to the fact that higher education levels produce better incomes, which still draws the same conclusion. People with higher income levels are less likely to be obese.

My mother was in and out of depression, and though circumstances are better, she is still on medication today. Depression is commonly developed when lower class families are worried about making ends meet. In addition, when the stress starts to take its toll, the pounds start adding up. Studies even suggest that stress can cause obesity. In fact, www.childadvocate.net has published some findings on the link between stress and obesity. The studies that produced the findings have linked serotonin levels to obesity. The study reveals that the low serotonin levels present in depressed individuals cause them to crave meals high in carbohydrates. In fact, the study found that participants with major depression had a larger BMI, or body mass index, than their counterparts.

In addition to all of the standard teenage issues, I had to worry about how I was going to pay for senior pictures, senior ring, and a prom dress. I did so by working for the money myself, however, I still missed out on a senior yearbook, letterman’s jacket, and some of the extras that go along with graduation. Studies also suggest that stress itself contributes to obesity. Studies suggest that this stress may increase the risk of becoming obese. In fact, myDNA.com states that, “obesity has been traced to hypocretin/orexin cells in the hypothalamus region of the brain that are easily excited and sensitive to stress.”

As you can see, poverty may well be a factor in the fight for our health. While we are trying to sue fast food companies and ban unhealthy snack foods in school, the answer might be more complicated than previously thought. We may not be able to abolish poverty, but we need to educate parents, teachers, school boards, and the general population because knowing is half the battle.

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