Obesity is a bigger problem than hunger in the United States. Among the poor obesity is especially a bigger problem than hunger. When hunger occurs it’s not hunger that is the problem, rather hunger is a symptom of other problems. The problems that lead to hunger are child neglect, dementia, infirmity, elder abuse, drug abuse, etc. Lack of free time to plan meals may lead to hunger or conversely, lead to obesity according to some theories.
Food is cheap. Many years ago, a well-known economist (whose name I have long since forgotten) studied the minimum cost of food preparation for a family. I have also forgotten the exact results but from what I recall it was something like $2 a day to feed a family of four in 1965 dollars. Think beans & rice, (which together make a perfect protein), with salt pork for flavor and canned vegetables. When dry stapes like rice and beans are purchased in bulk, they can be used to prepare cheap meals.
When I was in Costa Rica someone asked the tour guide what Costa Ricans eat. It turns out they eat beans & rice, with coffee and fruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They generally add a little protein in certain meals. Beans & rice, called Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica, likely became a traditional dish as the result of centuries of poverty and the need for inexpensive nutrition. Now it’s the national dish. If you go into a Costa Rican grocery store of almost any size, there is usually an entire row of different types of beans on one side of the aisle and an entire row of different types of rice on the other. They’re serious about beans and rice.
An article in MSN news raised the following question, Rich Parents Rarely Have Fat Kids: Why is That? Saying:
Childhood obesity is a widespread concern affecting kids worldwide. It sparks questions about why some children may be more overweight than others, particularly considering their family’s income. But why do there seem to be fewer overweight kids in families with more money?
Throughout most of human history, and even true today in some societies, the poor are slender while only the rich can afford to be fat. That’s the opposite of how it is in the U.S. The MSN article gave 15 reasons why child obesity is less common among upper-income families. Some of the reasons are bogus in my opinion, like claiming the wealthy are slender because they have access to nutritious foods. Here is what MSN says about foods:
- Access to Nutritious Food – Wealthier families often have the means to provide their children with a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. This access to nutritious options can contribute to maintaining a healthier weight.
Then there is the claim part of the reason for low childhood obesity among the wealthy is because the wealthy can afford extracurricular activities and the availability of safe recreational spaces. Activity is important to be healthy, but I’ve often read you really cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet with far too many calories.
- Access to Supportive Environments – Wealthier neighborhoods often have amenities like sidewalks, bike paths, and well-maintained public spaces, encouraging outdoor activities and exercise.
- Engagement in Extracurricular Activities
- Access to Quality Physical Education
- Availability of Safe Recreational Spaces
- Less Reliance on Screen Time
The following are four more reasons that make little sense to me.
- Access to Healthcare
- Access to Mental Health Resources
- Reduced Exposure to Fast Food
- Less Exposure to Food Insecurity
Finally, some reasons that make more sense.
- Cultural Emphasis on Health – Socioeconomically advantaged families may emphasize health and wellness more strongly, leading to a household environment that encourages healthier lifestyle choices.
- Social Support and Role Models – Children from wealthier families may have more access to social networks and role models who emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Having role models and people around them that they can talk to and look up to often can keep them on the right side of the healthy line.
- Cultural Norms and Expectations – In some higher-income communities, cultural norms may prioritize fitness and health, influencing children’s behaviors and attitudes toward their own well-being.
- Education and Awareness
- Parental Time and Involvement
I have written about food deserts before. These are generally urban areas that lack large, grocery stores. The stores that sell food are gas stations, convenience stores and dollar stores. They don’t cause fat people. Stores stock what sells. The small convenience stores in rural Costa Rica literally have raised beds of lettuce and salad greens growing out the back door. People want fresh lettuce so stores stock it in ways that keep it fresh. Dollar General in the US sells frozen vegetables and canned ones. They would probably sell fresh veggies if there was enough demand.
Why are the poor more likely to be obese than wealthier people? The reasons are undoubtedly complex. One theory I read is that the poor have fewer leisure activities available to them. They can afford fewer luxuries. Eating can be both pleasurable and festive. As one social scientist explained, poor people eat because it brings enjoyment that they may lack in other areas of their lives. He added, poor people may discount their social time preference at a higher discount rate. That’s a way of saying some people are willing to trade better health tomorrow for the pleasure of eating today.