Blessed are the Poor, for They Shall be Fat

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This is just the kind of reckless extrapolation that gives sociologists a bad name – or at least should be giving them a bad name.  Why are Americans plagued with excess body weight, even obesity, and all of the health carnage that attends to being fat?  Let’s make this a multiple-choice question:

  1. They consume more calories than they burn.
  2. They don’t exercise enough.
  3. They eat junk.
  4. They are poor.

If you answered #4 then you are among the sociological intelligentsia.  You understand something that escapes so many scientists in the exploration of dietary metabolism. You understand that poverty causes weight gain and prevents its loss.

Now, I know — you are thinking that since eating low on the food chain is both demonstrably healthier and far less expensive, that one might intuit that the poor would have an advantage in weight management.  You might hypothesize that since the cost per nutrient in the vegetable section of the grocery store is a bare fraction of the cost per nutrient in the junk sections of the grocery store (about 90 percent of the store), that the wealth-deprived should be doing just fine.

But, of course, you would be wrong.  Why?  Well – here is a possible, albeit inexplicable, explanation:  The poor are getting fat because they are forced to eat high on the food chain.  They are forced to consume processed junk that costs way, way more per nutrient than nutrient-dense, calorie-light alternatives.  That’s because they aren’t allowed in the produce section of the grocery store where nutrition is cheap.  Only the rich are allowed to buy cheap, nutrient-rich food.  You’ve seen the signs at the produce isles:  “Only the rich may shop here.  The nutritional content of these products is priced far too inexpensively for the poor.  Stay away!”

I suppose there is a poverty that leads to obesity.  A poverty of awareness.  A poverty of information.  A poverty of health education.  A poverty of critical thinking.

Eating at the bottom of the food chain is eating inexpensively.  Eating at the top is expensive.  Junk is expensive.  Real food is not.