Simultaneously Eating and Starving to Death: Obesity in America
According to the CDC, around 72.5 million Americans are obese. And there isn’t a single state in the U.S. that has obesity rates below 15 percent. Since 2000, the number of states with obesity rates at, or over, 30 percent of the population has increased from zero states to nine.
With these figures, no one would ever guess that these obese Americans were actually starving.
Diets that contribute to obesity are high in calories, grains, starches, trans-fats and modified fats, and cholesterol. But these diets are lacking in vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated fats and micronutrients. Unhealthy food leaves people feeling less full, making one inclined to eat more of it. Diets that contribute to obesity leave us overfed and undernourished. But bad food is hard to say no to when it’s so cheap and easy.
Healthier, lower calorie foods are more expensive than their sugary or fatty higher calorie counterparts, making it even more difficult to choose healthy eating. Researchers found that, based on a standard 2,000-calorie diet, eating a high-calorie, low-nutrient diet would cost on average $3.52 a day, whereas a low-calorie, high nutrient diet would cost you on average $36.32 a day. Junk foods also are less likely to rise as a result of inflation, making them more appealing to buy when you’ve got to stretch your dollars.
This vast price differential becomes an even greater problem when poverty and race are factored in. Low income groups run a higher risk for obesity, and Black and Hispanic populations run a higher risk of having a low income.
Blacks and Hispanics have significantly higher populations in poverty than whites, with 25.8 percent of blacks and 25.3 percent of Hispanics in poverty, compared to 9.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
While blacks have the highest prevalence of obesity, both blacks and Hispanics outweigh white populations. Obesity is 51 percent more common in black populations and 21 percent more common in Hispanic populations than in white populations.
A study by the CDC reveals there are several factors which contribute to obesity in these minority populations, one being less access to affordable and healthful foods. Neighborhoods with large minority populations have fewer chain supermarkets and produce stores. While healthy foods are relatively more expensive than energy-dense foods in general, this becomes painfully true in minority and low income-communities. Communities that have little access to fresh and healthy food, but plenty of access to unhealthy fast food are called ‘food deserts’.
Of course, food deserts are just one of the causes of obesity in urban populations. There is no single cause of obesity, no matter what race. There is no single solution, either. But with nearly one in three young people overweight or at risk for becoming obese, we can’t keep putting the problem of obesity off while our children keep packing on the pounds. This disturbing statistic could make today’s youth the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. The problem of obesity is something we need to approach from all economic and racial perspectives, and it’s something we need to address within all age groups.
Photo Credit: thanks to VirtualErn via flickr