Common Sense or What?
Common sense should tell us that if our income (if we have one!) goes down that we have to economize and this will inevitably involve cutting back on our food budget. Thus in the current situation of the world economic crisis untold millions of people around the world are having to do precisely just this ? or are they? What about in the United States the very country in which the subprime housing debt crisis set in train the world crisis? To be sure, many Americans are having to reduce their food budgets, but a large number in the lower socioeconomic groups are starting to put on weight in the process. What is the reason for this? The answer is that as people reduce spending on food they also tend to cut back on buying relatively expensive items such as fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables in favor of cheaper foods high in sugar and saturated fats. The toxic result of the failing economic environment then is widespread obesity.
Research Findings on Poverty, Immiseration, and Obesity
Research has shown a definite link between income and obesity in the United States. For example, in Seattle it was found that there are fivefold obesity rates depending on the zip code of people, the lower zip codes having a much higher proportion of obese people. A study in California showed that a 10 per cent rise in poverty translated into a 6 per cent increase in obesity among adults. In the past decade the rate of increase of cases of diabetes soared 90 per cent fueled by growing obesity and the sedentary lifestyle of many Americans.
Of note is the fact that nine of the ten states with the highest rates of new cases of diabetes were in the south of the United States where poverty is prevalent and there are significant disparities in income. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest figures show that over one third of American adults (72 million) and 16 per cent of children are obese. And shocking though it sounds: At least 40 million Americans are living in poverty and over 47 million do not have access to medical insurance. Given these horrendous stats, the economic recession now hitting America hard is sure to result in more poverty and, yes, inflated waistlines.
The paradox of economic immiseration is that worry about paying for food leads to having an inferior diet. The reality is that cheaper sources of calories tend to be high in bad fats and sugars. Anecdotal evidence supports the fact that many Americans take the easy option of eating at fast-food outlets like McDonald’s which offers a menu that is high in fats and loaded with calories. The world’s largest hamburger chain is nothing if it not recession resistant having posted a 7 per cent jump in global sales in the last quarter of 2008. Cash-strapped as millions of Americans are, they still easily gravitate towards perfunctory, but necessary, eating out at McDo’s and other convenience food outlets.
To the contrary, sales of healthy foods have been going down. Prior to the economic crisis organic, natural, and gourmet foods were selling at affordable prices for not only middle-class consumers. But the economic malaise has hit the pockets of even up market people who are forced to trade down to lower-priced stores.
The Facts of the Matter . . . Interpreted
The facts of the matter then are this: Poverty is associated with obesity because energy dense foods are cheaper than healthy foods. However, more poverty does not necessarily have to inexorably mean more obesity, but the truth is it does. Although it is easy for dietary experts to sound off saying that the economic crisis is the occasion for people to adapt and modify their eating habits and go for affordable and nutrient-rich foods like rice, beans, nuts, carrots, potatoes, milk, cheese, canned tomatoes, a ration of chocolate etc, they are just not doing this. Unlike the great depression of the thirties in America when people had to get by eating basic foods, the present crisis is handled by people taking the easy road towards the fast-food outlets. The hedonistic pleasure principle of contemporary life rules for sure then against the common sense advice that a new mentality of dieting is needed to cope with the new depression upon us. But the sad truth is that once the recession pounds are added to already more or less flabby waistlines they will not only be difficult to get off, they are actually likely to be added to further with economic recovery as people will have become habituated to what is nothing less than a diabetes-engendering diet.
As an alternative, I wonder, why do people not seriously consider fasting for the sake of their purses, wallets, health, and waistlines? The reply to this question is another story . . .
Park Sung Eun email@example.com
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