Poverty and Obesity: The Role of Energy Density and Energy Costs
Low energy cost and dietary energy density are both inversely related, and low-cost energy-dense foods may promote overconsumption, especially among low-income consumers. This finding suggests that low-income consumers may choose energy-dense foods because they can save money on them. However, persons trying to keep costs to a minimum will often choose energy-dense foods. That is why addressing inequalities in access to healthy food is an important part of policy interventions.
Evidence linking dietary energy density with higher energy intakes
There is some evidence that high dietary energy density is associated with obesity and low socioeconomic status. This association is especially evident among the poor. Among low-income groups, there is an increased likelihood of obesity and type 2 diabetes. In addition, low-energy foods cost less, so the perceived reward of eating these foods is high. Furthermore, people ranked taste and variety above nutritional quality, a key factor for obesity.
Although dietary energy density increases with lower food costs, the overall amount of calories consumed per day increases with a low price. Consequently, the energy content of food in low-income households may be higher than the equivalent amount of food in higher-income households. Therefore, higher energy intakes may be associated with obesity, low-income groups, and those in low-income groups. Moreover, low-cost foods may promote overconsumption.
Although the proportion of fat in diets is not measured, studies have shown that people with low-incomes tend to consume higher amounts of fat. The percentage of calories from fat is higher in low-income groups, indicating a lower quality of diet for these groups. Further, low-income groups consume lower amounts of fruits and vegetables than their wealthier counterparts. Despite the increasing number of studies, it is important to remember that food spending has decreased relative to other goods, making it difficult to make the right choices in terms of diet.
Policy interventions to address inequalities in access to healthy foods
Inequalities in access to healthy foods can have a significant impact on diet and health, particularly for those in low-income communities. In these communities, access to healthy foods is often limited, limiting the choice of what is available to residents. These factors increase the risk of chronic diseases and poor nutrition. To address inequalities in access to healthy foods, policy interventions should be made to increase access to healthier foods in low-income communities.
The failure of governments to reduce the prevalence of obesity is due to a variety of inadequacies related to their policies. These policies are generally not designed to target those most vulnerable to obesity. However, they should focus on the most effective levers for system change. For example, if a government wants to reduce childhood obesity, it should eliminate television ads that promote unhealthy foods.
Research shows that SNAP recipients remain food insecure even after receiving benefits. Furthermore, many people who qualify for the program don’t receive assistance. Sixty percent of seniors are eligible for SNAP, but do not receive it. Reducing barriers to applying and recertifying eligibility would help to reduce food insecurity among low-income Americans.
Cultural differences in dietary choices
In an article published in Diabetes Care, researchers examined the role of cultural factors in childhood obesity. While children generally share food preferences with their parents, dietary practices can differ based on the availability of food in a family’s home. For instance, African American children were more likely to be exposed to food-related TV ads, with fast-food being the most popular category. Such marketing tactics are aimed at steering children away from traditional, healthier foods and towards unhealthy fast-food alternatives.
Despite this diversity, there are several factors that may influence the dietary patterns of low-income children. One major factor is marketing of unhealthy foods, which is the primary source of this trend. Researchers in California have found that the density of advertising for sugary drinks and fast-food chains in low-income neighborhoods is more than double the amount in communities dominated by African-Americans and Latinos. In addition, during SNAP benefit-issuing days, sugary beverage marketing doubled in these communities.
A second factor is culture. African-Americans typically eat foods influenced by the dominant American culture, which is centered around meat and fat. For example, during the early 1900s, African-Americans did not depend as heavily on processed foods; many were sharecroppers who ate off the land. Black urban dwellers, on the other hand, tended to keep vegetable gardens. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, African-American adults obtained about 35 percent of their calories from fat, 12 percent of which were saturated fat. Nutritionists recommend eating less than 30 percent of calories from fat and saturated sugars.