One of the most significant health issues in America today (Yes, even more than the ebola case diagnosed in Texas) is obesity. Childhood obesity in particular has increased drastically in the last three decades. While obesity in general is a problem, childhood obesity also serves as a warning sign for future health issues that will inevitably arise as these populations age. Type one diabetes and cardiovascular issues, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, can quickly develop in young, obese populations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one third of children and adolescents were overweight as of 2012. This health issue did not silently sneak up over the past thirty years, it has been growing at an alarming rate, but we have been consistently incapable of addressing it.
Even with the recent health trends, obesity rates continue to climb. It seems unlikely that genetic factors account for a quadrupling of childhood obesity rates in the past thirty years, so the cause must be environmental. Contrary to the sedentary American stereotype, many people have turned to eating healthier foods and exercising regularly. Unfortunately, not all individuals in our country have access to healthy food and exercise. Studies have shown a strong correlation between poverty and childhood obesity.
With the recent economic problems that America has faced, more families had to survive on extremely limited funds. The easiest way to cut food costs is to buy fast food. It’s cheap, and it serves the purpose of feeding one’s family. Even if there were supermarkets in low-income areas that offered organic produce and other healthy food items, a majority of the population would still pick cheap, heavily processed meals.
The general consensus is that it requires about two hours of brisk walking to equalize the caloric intake from a single double cheeseburger. Low-income areas tend to have higher crime rates, making that two hour walk a dangerous endeavor. Here we see the second factor that may increase obesity rates in low-income families: exercise can be dangerous. Combining unhealthy eating with a lack of regular exercise will almost always result in obesity.
If poverty and obesity are linked, then it is reasonable that obesity rates would increase as the economic situation declined. The question then is how we could lower obesity in low-income populations. As the problem stands, we cannot address childhood obesity in low-income neighborhoods without addressing poverty itself. Even if we provide a means to reduce childhood obesity rates through organic supermarkets or gyms, we cannot guarantee that people living on limited funds would have the money to spend on such establishments. There does not appear to be a logical, quick solution to this issue, but finding any solution would have the potential to drastically reduce obesity and the subsequent cardiovascular problems obese individuals face.
“Even if there were supermarkets in low-income areas that offered organic produce and other healthy food items, a majority of the population would still pick cheap, heavily processed meals.” I don’t know, I think people might surprise you. The key is to drive down the price of organic food by producing more food that way (let’s subsidize organic farmers instead of GMO corn & soy!), and drive out processed options via legislation.
Processed food’s main sin is too much sugar. I was surprised to read the nutritional facts on a box of Total (cardboard flavored vitamin enriched “healthy” cereal) and saw it contains 5g of sugar per 3/4 cup. I’m definitely eating more like 1.5 cups cereal in the morning, so that means ten grams of sugar for breakfast. That’s gross. Sticking with Cheerios, at 2g per 1.5 cups and non-GMO ingredients. It’s time to focus the health debate on reducing processed sugar intake.
Flyn Kaida-Yip says
If we could drive down the prices of organic foods, establishing sources of organic produce in low-income areas would definitely be a feasible approach to solving this issue. Producing more organic food should be a priority anyways.
I agree completely that processed sugars are a problem. As a big fan of cardboard flavored, vitamin-enriched cereal, I feel your pain. Reducing processed sugar intake would be hugely beneficial as excess sugars lead to significant health problems. Although diabetes is usually the first health issue to come to mind, others such as atherosclerosis can also appear in adolescents who consume excess sugars and fats.