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How Low Socioeconomic Status is related to Obesity

| Date Posted: 6/4/2012 | Author: Mandy McCue

A Changing Culture

Think about the 1500’s:  royalty and peasants, princes and jokers.  Back then, being overweight showed status and wealth.  Most of the lower-income families were underweight because they could not afford to eat regularly or eat the type of food the royals were eating.  Now, in the 21st century, the script has flipped.

Overall, the United States has a fast growing obesity rate, currently at 35.7%.  New studies are showing the highest increase in obesity has been in the lower socioeconomic groups. In fact, it is thought that 1/3 of the homeless in the United States are overweight or obese. (E News Park Forest: Study Suggests One-Third of US Homeless are Obese) Now the question is why? How has this changed over the last few centuries?

American culture is different from other countries.  Here, bigger is better and the word biggest is best.  Why have one cheeseburger when one can have two stacked on top of each other?   The abundance of fast food restaurants and the large portion sizes are correlated to rising obesity rates.  The nutrition value of these easily accessible foods is very poor as well. They are processed, high in fat and refined sugars, and low in essential nutritional factors like vitamins. It is unfortunate that the least expensive foods are usually the unhealthiest, and sometimes the least expensive food is all that is affordable. To learn more about how American culture, like fast food restaurants and celebrity chefs, has affected the obesity rate, read our American Cultures Effect on Obesity article. 

Obesity and obesity related medical conditions, such as diabetes, make up 10% of all health care costs.  Direct medical costs of obesity are around $147 billion.  Half of the obesity-related medical costs are paid by Medicaid and Medicare.   Medicaid is a United States health program for certain people and families with low incomes and resources.   Medicare is a national social insurance program administered by the U.S. government for Americans 65 or older or for younger people with disabilities.


According to a study done by the Population Reference Bureau, there is a strong correlation between obesity and low income because cheap high-caloric processed foods are the easiest to attain.  A lot of cheap foods have high levels of refined grains and added sugars and fat.  They also tend to include processed ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup, which is proven to cause obesity.

According to Max Schmesiser, Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “While at first pass income may seem like an important determinant of obesity, individual behaviors, as well as the means with which to carry out healthy behaviors, primarily drive the relationship between income and weight. I believe the issue of greater obesity among low-income families relative to higher-income families is primarily driven by differences in information on good nutritional behaviors, cooking knowledge, and availability or access to healthy food.”

Approximately 46 million Americans are on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as food stamps. (USATODAY:Fewer Americans draw on federal relief programs)  SNAP is a federal government program that helps low-income people and families buy food. (U.S. Social Security Administration)Programs like SNAP or WIC, which is a supplement nutrition program for women, infants and children, have financial limitations that vary from household to household depending on the amount of income and other requirements. Since there is a  limited amount of money provided per month and because fresh food, like fruits and vegetables, are normally more expensive, many people choose quantity over the quality of the food they are purchasing.

According to Obesity in the Lower Socio-Economic Status Segments of American Society, people who shopped in supermarkets consumed more fruits and vegetables than someone who shopped at independent grocers.  It also stated that many lower socioeconomic status communities have fewer neighborhood supermarkets, which make certain food options less available. A national sample of food store availability indicated these trends with non-chain supermarkets and grocery stores are more prevalent in low-income and minority neighborhoods.

Obesity may be a trending factor in our nation but it is preventable by making healthier food choices and becoming more active. If these two options have not been able to work for you in the past, FirstHealth offers a weight-loss surgery option. If you are a candidate for surgery, you can attend one of our free bi-monthly bariatric surgery seminars on the first Thursday and the third Monday of every month.  Register for this free weight-loss surgery seminar today!

FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in partnership with Pinehurst Surgical also offers comprehensive care when it comes to weight loss and weight-loss surgery. Our comprehensive Bariatric Surgical Program serves patients in the Pinehurst, Sanford, Raeford, Laurinburg, Lumberton, Troy and Rockingham regions of North Carolina and beyond. Call (800) 213-3284 with questions or for more information.


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