05 November 2009

Disproportionately Affected

Take a look at the maps here:

One of these maps shows the average income per household in each state. The other shows the percentage of the population that is obese in each state. Notice anything? Mississippi and Arkansas have some of the lowest mean incomes and also the most obesity. In fact, the same thing can be said for the majority of the southeast. Now look at states out west like Colorado, Utah, and Nevada or the New England states. They have a much higher average income and much lower rates of obesity. The correlation is remarkable.

Carbohydrates are cheap. Families with lower incomes buy processed, high carbohydrate food. This is the heart of the issue.

Today, I'm including an essay I wrote for an English class last year. I really enjoyed putting this together. Unfortunately, it earned me a B+. Go figure.

"An epidemic is sweeping America. It is not cancer or HIV. It is not even the cold or flu. It is an entirely preventable disease named obesity, and unfortunately, the statistics present another alarming trend: the lower class population is disproportionately affected by it. In 1974, 22.5% of people making less than $25,000 per year were obese. In 2002, this had increased to a staggering 33%. That same year, another 30% of people making between $25,000 and $40,000 were also listed as obese. Numbers for obesity are on the rise in nearly every social, ethnic, and age demographic, but lack of proper nutrition due to cost and availability of quality food makes the low class especially vulnerable.

"The low-income population is without a doubt the most affected by obesity in today’s society and though the low-income status is not limited to one or two particular ethnic groups, the large majority of low-income families in America are of African and Hispanic decent.

"The problem begins with the places the poor are able to shop. Well known chains such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s are not exactly the ideal places to purchase high quality and nutritious food stuffs. In contrast, franchises such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are not exactly catering to the poor population’s wallet.

"Soda and chips are inexpensive. Milk and vegetables are not. The main issue with the diet of low income families is the fact that it relies heavily on cheap, processed foods with a high carbohydrate content and high calorie to nutrient ratio.

"The human body has taken many millions of years to evolve and adapt. It has only been in the last 10,000 years approximately that the agricultural revolution occurred, introducing the human body to grain where before it had relied only on meat, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some fruit and berries. This also introduced the human population to a diet high in carbohydrate that it had formerly not been accustomed to (or evolved to digest), which causes a much more dramatic rise in the production of insulin. This excess insulin causes an intense craving for more carbohydrates and sugars to maintain normal blood sugar levels. It is clear to see that this reaction can never be truly balanced and leads to overeating and obesity.

"Many years later, as the population of the modern world exponentially increased, there became a greater need for food and efficiency of farmland. An acre of land producing corn or wheat can provide about eight times the amount of calories than an acre used to raise livestock. Grain became a cheap way to produce massive amounts of food for the world’s (and livestock’s) appetite. Additionally, these grain products had a much longer shelf life than vegetables and meat. The shelf life could be extended further with processing and harmful additives (such as hydrogenated oils and nitrites), which also helped decrease costs even more, making them the most cost effective way to keep families from starving on a budget.

"This reliance on grain-based carbohydrates is unfortunately also supported by the United States government partly due to pressure by agricultural technology lobbyists and a series of outdated studies carefully selected for results that matched their agenda (from scientists desperate for funding). Subsequently, the USDA’s Food Pyramid suggests Americans get the majority of their calories from grain-based carbohydrates, a macronutrient introduced to the human body in large quantities only recently in an evolutionary sense!

"The problem does not necessarily lie in all carbohydrates. In fact, fruits and vegetables are full of them, but there exists a very important difference. Fruits and vegetables are extremely nutrient dense, do not cause dramatic insulin spikes, and are not subjected to processing to make them edible. None of these remarks can be made about grains.

"As previously stated, the poor diet of lower income Americans has a huge impact on their health and wellbeing. The main problem is obesity, but it does not stop there. Obesity can lead to a host of other issues such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, gallbladder disease, and some cancers. Still, diabetes remains the most common byproduct of obesity caused by the high carb, highly processed diet. Insulin production is rarely ever stabilized after the body has received years of a constant barrage of high glycemic, grain-based, processed carbohydrates. The costs incurred from diabetes are not only limited to the physical, but also the monetary expenses associated with the disease. There are constant doctor visits, prescriptions, and quite possibly surgeries. Low-income citizens do not make enough money to pay for healthy quality foods to eat, let alone health insurance or surgery!

"The modern American diet is quite controversial. The recommended nutrition guidelines are filled with political and scientific bias that do little to help the public, but rather boost careers and help secure funding. Canada’s food guidelines provide a much more accurate representation of human biological needs. It suggests that the basis of a healthy diet is colorful fruits and vegetables and then grain products. Lean meats (including red meat) and some dairy also make their way into the recommendations, as do healthy fats like olive oil and nuts.

"A magnificent challenge lies ahead in getting these types of food into the hands of everyone across the country. It could begin with government subsidies of these healthy foods (or no subsidies at all), as well as incentives for quality food chains to open locations in a lower income city or town. Simply reducing food waste could also have a drastic impact on lowering the demand for food and ultimately lower prices. Education and supplies for simple home vegetable gardening would also be of great benefit to those willing.

"Something must be done to help the poor to receive the proper nutrition that so many other Americans take for granted. The government needs to step in to allow them access to quality foods, and take the politics out of the USDA’s Food Pyramid that is misinforming so many. Highly processed, grain-based carbohydrate diets are dangerous to the innocent and na├»ve lower class in our country and ultimately cost us all."

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