The obesity epidemic now apparent in most developed countries has churned up more questions than answers. What’s causing it? Who’s at risk? What can we do to fight back? New research has found a curious link between family income and propensity for obesity, showing that there’s a lot more at work than poor choices in the drive-through line.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed behavioral data from 863 low-income parents. All of the families were participants in Greenlight, an obesity-prevention trial taking place at four medical centers: UNC, New York University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Miami.
The study was meant to explore links between race, ethnicity and obesity, but it turned out that income (86 of parents in the sample were on Medicaid) was a much stronger common bond between participants.
Among all of the parents, ”obesogenic” behaviors [actions thought to be related to later obesity] were highly prevalent. “Exclusive formula-feeding was more than twice as common (45 percent) as exclusive breastfeeding (19 percent). Twelve percent had already introduced solid food, 43 percent put infants to bed with bottles, 23 percent propped bottles instead of holding the bottle by hand (which can result in overfeeding), 20 percent always fed when the infant cried, and 38 percent always tried to get their children to finish their milk. In addition, 90 percent of the infants were exposed to television and 50 percent actively watched TV (meaning parents put their children in front of the television in order to watch).”
This link between poverty and obesity isn’t necessarily an intuitive one (stereotypes might lead us to assume poor people have access to less food, reducing the opportunity for obesity), yet it’s one that’s been observed before. The infographic below illuminates some of the reasons why.
Poor = likely to be less educated. Between 1986 and 2002, adults in the lowest income and education groups had consistently higher BMI (body mass index) than adults in the highest income and education groups. Making good choices about food means knowing the difference between nutrient dense food and nutrient poor food. When it comes to diet, what you don’t know does hurt you.
Poor = likely to live in a food desert. Poverty-dense areas often lack quality, fresh food, a phenomenon that has come to be known as a “food desert.” In rural and inner-city areas, it’s common for grocery stores to be limited or even non-existent. In their place are convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. As a result, 43 percent of households living below the poverty line are uncertain of having or unable to acquire sufficient food.
Poor = less likely to have access to exercise facilities or outdoor time. Poor areas are often unsafe, preventing people from being active outside. Poor areas also typically contain fewer parks and athletic facilities, so even those who are motivated to give up their sedentary lifestyle find it difficult to do so.
Infographic Source: Healthcare-Administration-Degree.net
Image via Thinkstock