Poverty, Obesity, and Low-Cost Food

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The Impact of Economic Challenges on Access to Healthy Food

The general perception is that all Americans, regardless of income level, have access to a healthy diet. Hover, the irony is that a vast number of shoppers face a slight difficulty in fulfilling their dream of obtaining lean meat, organic vegetables, and whole grains because they must strike a balance between nutritious food and proper nutrition (Drewnowski and Eichelsdoerfer 246). When wages fall, the budget becomes tighter, and the food choices that one must choose to shrink much more as cheaper and more energy-dense foods become available. The tendency has resulted in poor health status and people have ended up with adverse health conditions because of the financial challenges in acquiring healthy foods. Lower quality diet is what differentiates the low-income earners and the more affluent families and is the primary reason for the rising cases of obesity for those who have tighter budgets when making foods choices.

The Cost of Healthy Food

The general trend is that healthy food is expensive because nutritious food relates to high expenses. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have supported this finding and have even designed plans that demonstrate the manner in which people can acquire different nutritious diets at varying income level. The organization achieved this goal by making illustrations through the Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal Food Plans (Drewnowski and Specter 6). A Thrifty Food Plan was estimated at $588.30 for a month while about $20 per day is paid for a family of four. The statistics indicate that the TFP has managed to realize its goal for cost objectives through the use of cheaper food alternatives. It has been shown that most of the energy tend to come from the oil, white bread, potatoes and sugar (Drewnowski and Specter 6). The outcome is that many people tend to opt for cheaper foods with the economic challenges that are apparent with the middle-income groups and to a worse extent the low-income families. Thus the TFP have further illustrated that the hypothesis of opting for cheaper food among the low-income earner is common.

Ignoring Eating Habits and the Rise of Poor Health Status

The other significant trend is that people have ended up ignoring their eating habits even as they opt for the cheaper food options. The outcome is that the rates of poor health status have risen sharply over the past two decades and it is a challenging reality as the world prepares for tougher economic times in the future (Tirado et al. 1729). It is undisputed that the rate of obesity and diabetes type II tend to follow a gradient hat is defined by someone’s socioeconomic status. Those with limited resources, the poor and the racial-ethnic groups are often the worst hit with the conditions. Women have notably been found to exhibit higher rates of obesity because of the low incomes and high illiteracy levels that translates to high poverty levels (Ogden et al. 3). The same trends have been observed among those classed as the minority population as they tend to exhibit higher poverty levels than the US white population. Statistical, it has been found that 57.2 percent of Black women and 46.9 percent of the Hispanic women have been noted to be obese while only 38.2 percent of the White women are overweight. The rates among men further show that the ethnic minority men face a tougher challenge and thus exhibit higher obesity rates. Reports indicate that black men lead to 38 percent, followed by Hispanic men are 37.9 percent while the White men obesity rate stands at 34.7 percent (Food Research & Action Center). The national data have thus shown that there are substantially higher obesity rates among the racial-ethnic groups with the black and Hispanic groups showing higher rates than the White populations.

The Relationship Between Income, Education, and Diet Quality

The trend of rising expenses that have led to the compromise of diet quality with the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) often used for correlation. It constitutes a 10 component scale that runs to 100 units and that was made by the USDA. Its primary goal is to measure the overall quality of total diet. The indicates that are used in the measurement processes include the determination of whether the diet conforms to the pyramid guide of milk products, meat grains, vegetables, and fruits (Bowen, Balsam, and Ender 221). The following sections determine the level of fat, cholesterol, saturated fats and the intake of sodium. The HEI results for women were comparatively higher for women than men and it was largely because of men often exhibit higher education and income levels compared to women. Education overall tended to pay a significant role in the trend of higher diet quality that did the level of income, but both variable were nevertheless critical. The women who would often report the lower quality dies were found to have been the ones who indicated food insufficiency. The variables effect on diet quality thus indicate that with higher education, there is greater awareness of one’s heath and the issues related to and hence better attention to food choice. Thus, the higher-income respondents showed that they had more attention to their quality of food and would not factor expense as a hindrance.

The Energy-Density Cost Framework and the Challenge of Cheap Food

The energy-density cost framework has also been used in the depiction of how critical the problem of cheap food poses to healthy living. It is a behavioral model that was hypothesized and confirmed to describe the trend where many households seem to face economic challenges and diminishing incomes that pushes them to opt for the less expensive foods. The goal often is to ensure that at the lowest cost possible, one can still meet their energy level demands. A research conducted to determine the consumption trends and asses how families perceive food sufficiency, some would respond that it was “enough but not the kinds of food we want to eat” (Drewnowski and Specter 8). The statement indicates that while people desire to eat healthy food, they are often torn between tough choices that sometimes require that a person they consider cheaper options which they had not anticipated to take. It shows that people are facing the challenge of adequate energy intakes but they face the problem of food choices. Result further indicate that only in instances were the incomes diminished would the households reduce their dietary intake level that exceeded the daily requirements and in the end result in overt deprivation. The framework has thus indicated that the present-day scenario offers an association between poverty and obesity, so that the low-cost energy dense foods promote overconsumption. The overall trend, therefore, is that people tend to prefer the poor quality foods are often in extreme situations and face economic challenges.

The Cost of Healthy Food vs. Cheap Alternatives

The last significant correlation is based on the indication of food quality and whether they tend to cost more than the cheaper alternatives. There is a huge difference in the food choices that people make and the trend is largely attributed to the fact that the diet quality the primary consideration. The data presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the income disparities are largely responsible for the quality of foods taken. The reality, however, is that the wealthier households have access to better foods and prefer more nutrition options. For example, it was reported that “Wealthier households bought higher-quality meats, more fish and seafood, more fruit and vegetables, and more convenience foods. Despite buying lower-cost items, poor households devoted a far greater share of their disposable income to food” (Bowen, Balsam, and Ender 223). The UK Women’s Cohort Study has also highlighted this factor and brought into context how women in the healthiest diet groups spent additional $1000 on food. Thus, many other studies also seem t agree on the fact that one needs to spend more money if they desire to access a healthy diet.


In summary, it is worth emphasizing that cheap food is often sought by lower-income groups and it is to blame for the rising rates of obesity and other nutrition-related conditions. Poverty often leads to strict budgets that result in poor diet purchases even though many often do not prefer the cheaper alternatives. It thus indicates that while people are aware they are consuming unhealthy foods, most of them have few options and are forced to consider the options that they have. It is thus recommended that in efforts meant to address the rising obesity levels, the focus should be placed on the income levels to ensure that poverty levels are reduced.

Works Cited

Bowen, Deborah J., Kimberly F. Balsam, and Samantha R. Ender. “A Review of Obesity Issues in Sexual Minority Women.” Obesity 16.2 (2008): 221–228. Web.

Drewnowski, Adam, and Petra Eichelsdoerfer. “Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?” Nutrition Today 44.6 (2010): 246–249. Web.

Drewnowski, Adam, and SE Specter. “Poverty and Obesity : The Role of Energy Density and Energy Costs.” The American Journal of Clinical Nuttrition 79.6 (2004): 6–16. Print.

Food Research & Action Center. “Obesity in the U.S.” Food Research & Action Center. (2017): n. pag. Web.

Ogden, Cynthia L. et al. “Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009-2010.” NCHS data brief 82 (2012): 1–8. Web.

Tirado, M. C. et al. “Addressing the Challenges of Climate Change and Biofuel Production for Food and Nutrition Security.” Food Research International 43.7 (2010): 1729–1744. Web.

January 13, 2023

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