The Economics of Obesity: Why Are Poor People Fat?

In Diet and Nutrition, Featured Article, Health Warning by Natural Health Dossier69 Comments

This is what poverty looked like in the Great Depression…

This is what poverty looks like today…

For most of recorded history, fat was revered as a sign of health and prosperity. Plumpness was a status symbol. It showed that you did not have to engage in manual labor for your sustenance. And it meant that you could afford plentiful quantities of food.

For most people, however, being fat was simply not an option. The constant struggle to hunt and harvest ensured that we stayed active. And for those with little money, the supply of calories was meager. This ensured that most of the working class stayed slim.

Rich people were fat. Poor people were thin.

Today, the polar opposite is true. Numerous studies show that low-income children and adults are far more likely to be overweight than those of greater means. And the statistical distribution fits a nice, neat curve – as income falls, the rate of obesity rises.

The following graph from a population study in Utah puts this in perspective. The tallest bar on the left represents the lowest income group… and the highest rate of obesity.

Logically, this makes no sense and it is contrary to our historical experience. How is it that the people with the least money to spend are the most likely to be overweight?

There is no shortage of suggestions for why this is the case. Here are just a few I’ve come across:

  • Poor people are uneducated and ignorant about nutrition. (They never learned that Doritos and Twinkies are not a healthy meal).
  • Poor people are too lazy (or too busy working) to cook real food.
  • Poor people are too tired after working two jobs to get enough exercise.
  • Poor people don’t have access to fitness centers and farmers markets.

There is some truth in all of these statements. But they certainly do not apply to all lower income workers. Each exhibits a significant misunderstanding. And none of them identify the real reason why modern poverty is so closely correlated with obesity.

The Real Reason Why Poor People Are Fat

Professor and obesity researcher, Dr. Adam Drewnowski set out to determine why income is the most reliable predictor of obesity in the U.S. To do this, he took a hypothetical dollar to the grocery store. His goal was to purchase as many calories as possible per dollar.

What he found is that he could buy well over 1,000 calories of cookies or potato chips. But his dollar would only buy 250 calories of carrots. He could buy almost 900 calories of soda… but only 170 calories of orange juice.

If you are poor and hungry, you are obviously going to buy the cheapest calories you can find. And in today’s world, the cheapest calories come from junk foods – whether those foods are found at the grocery store, the gas station, or in the fast food restaurant, conveniently located just down the street.

But this raises another question. How can industrially-processed foods and their associated marketing costs be so much cheaper than real, whole foods produced from water, seeds and sunlight?

In a New York Times article, author Michael Pollan asks this very question…

“Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudo-cakes for less than a bunch of roots?

Pollan goes on to answer his own question…

“The Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year.

The primary reason that lower-income people are more overweight is because the unhealthiest and most fattening foods are the cheapest. If you were broke and had just three dollars to spend on food today, would you buy a head of broccoli or a Super Value Meal with French fries, a cheeseburger and a Coke?

Because you’re reading this publication, you might choose the former. But for most people who have very little to spend on food, the choice is clear.

And make no mistake. This does not represent a failure of the capitalist free-market system. Modern agri-business and government food policy represents a perverted version of capitalism – crony capitalism – where those with the most money and the most powerful friends in government control the markets.

What they have done is use your tax dollars to subsidize certain commodity crops (at the expense of others) to ensure that the cost of oils, sugar and grains stay artificially low. With low input costs, food manufacturers can turn a tidy profit. The end result is that processed foods – even though they require more technology, more labor and more marketing to produce and sell – are cheaper to the consumer than real, whole foods.

Consider that between 1985 and 2000, the inflation-adjusted prices of fruits and vegetables increased by an average of 40%. During the same period of time the real price of soft drinks fell by almost 25%.

There is no doubt that obesity has become a public health crisis. But because most politicians either do not understand the issue or because they are too corrupt to do the right thing, most “solutions” to this crisis are completely wrongheaded.

Some politicians are calling for a tax on fat people themselves. Currently, many state governments have imposed taxes on soft drinks and junk foods. And calls are growing louder for similar taxes at the federal level.

It is completely insane that in a country where the surgeon general has identified “an epidemic of obesity” that we are simultaneously subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. It is equally insane that the government is helping to artificially lower the cost of foods that are driving up national healthcare costs (i.e. killing us), while having a national healthcare debate about how we are going to pay for those costs.

So What Can You Do?

I am a strong advocate for free markets. If I had my way, I would not suggest shifting the subsidies from unhealthy commodity crops to crops that are considered healthy. I suggest leveling the playing field by ending food subsidies altogether.

But that is clearly not going to happen…

Within the current system, the best we can hope for is a situation where public funds are diverted from the corporate Agri-Giants (which is nothing more than welfare for the wealthy) to family farms and fruit and vegetable growers. Currently, almost 70% of farmers receive no subsidies at all, while the biggest and strongest take the bulk of public funds.

Public funds for farms and food should be directed to help build local and sustainable food systems. These funds should favor natural, organic and sustainable methods, rather than the chemical and industrial practices that pollute our rivers and our bodies.

Publicly funded cafeterias in schools, prisons and hospitals should be required to source a percentage of their food from regional sources. And federal food assistance programs like WIC cards and food stamps should be accepted at farmers markets and other healthier alternatives than the local Safeway.

This would do a lot more to help the “obesity crisis” than taxing soft drinks at a penny per ounces.

But you want to know the truth?

Very little of what I have just proposed is likely to happen. It doesn’t matter how much sense it makes. And it doesn’t matter how vocally the population howls in protest to the current system. The corporate powers that be are simply too powerful and too well-entrenched in Washington.

You best bet is to vote with your dollars and your feet.

Choose whole, natural foods over those that are processed. Most of the foods you bring home from the grocery store should not have ingredients. They should BE ingredients. If possible, buy your food directly from small farms and family-owned farms. And whenever you can, choose foods that are grown locally (, and are three organizations that can help you find farmers in your region).


    1. Very interesting article there and yes rich people are skinny because of economics. Real food – things that is not made from rubbish like wheat, r

      1. Oops that didnt come out right. what i was saying is
        It’s all boils down to economics. Rich people can afford to eat REAL FOOD- top quality meats, fish, organic vegetables, top quality fats and oils while

        poor people eat what look like food but is actually disease causing poisons- wheat, dirty meats and fish, rice, vegetable oils, trans fats, cotton seeds oils, milk,cheese, soy beans, potatoes, corn and every thing made from those ingredients which is why it is cheap and affordable but It’s all rubbish. Not to mention all that sugary soft drinks made from HFCS and other sugars.

        1. Is wheat unhealthy? As in the stuff in bread???

          What am I supposed to do? Live off rice?

          1. That would be a good alternative, the Japanese do not eat wheat, they are healthier, live longer, have less heart disease and prostate cancer, and spend half as much on health as the USA. Rice is completely metabolized in the small intestine (white rice) unlike wheat, which is about 75% metabolized, the balance being fermented by bacteria in the colon.

            White rice does not contain gluten.

            What are you supposed to do, well that’s your choice but the Japanese staple source of energy neither makes them fat or sick, and its cheap.

          2. It’s not that wheat is unhealthy, but rather a diet based entirely on wheat is. Wheat is basically all carbohydrates and the golden ticket to weight gain( as opposed to popular misconception that eating fat is the fastest way to gain weight). If poor people’s diet is consisted primarily of chips that come in huge bags and proportions, it’s hard to stay in shape.

      2. Good food costs, but it seems that no matter what level of economics Fat is fat and it has to do with the availability and social acceptance possibly. As well as the educational factor in teaching good food from bad. Basically, when you think about it. Anyone to blame would be media, fast food chains and the fast paced life of drive thru . Unemployment and depression, or non exercise basically.

    2. Not fully comprehended.
      If you are really poor, you wish to make your money go the furthest, it makes sense to spend as little as possible. If you need calories, fine, you can get those with cheaper calories, but you dont have to over spend your disposable income to get more calories than you need. By definition, a person with a high BMI is eating more than burning calories. A really poor person would save every bit of money they could.
      I am not a psychologist, but I assume the comfort of extra calories and eating is enjoyable part of ones life when other enjoyments might be missing. Certainly a poor person might be obese, but a really poor person would likely not be obese – they simply would not have access to that much food.

  1. Or it could just be that wealthier people obviously care about themselves enough to take care of themselves. The same reason they succeeded in life.

    1. What a crock! Not everyone was born with a gold bar in their ass and skinny. And even the wealthy are fat.
      What I find amazing is how you seem to think that poor people chose to be poor? Not everyone is poor based on choice, some had prominent jobs and careers and have come from a middle class income. It is the dynamics of the society and environment that contributes to the overall health of a person. Mental states and disease which may be hereditary are also know contributors to the person weight. Death of a spouse or the loss of a child. You know… You can’t say that people don’t care about themselves and that is the reason. You also have to add the prejudices that are prevalent today as well.

      1. what an excellent way to say it. ALL those factors play a role in health and income. I believe that 85% of poor people don’t choose to be poor but are held back by many of the things you said. I also believe that laziness is the last item on list for being poor. I grew up poor but my parents worked very hard. I took night classes and used grants to pay for college. I’m now comfortably retired mostly due to my parents work ethic I inherited from them and being blessed with good health that my working wife put into our meals.

    2. wealthy people can afford the best food, personal dieticians, best exercise equipment, gyms, fitness trainers, cosmetic surgery,etc..etc..some of then have their own private chef !
      I Love to eat healthy..lean protein, fresh veges and fruit but cannot afford it all month…..I cannot afford to pay over $20 for 5 chicken breasts for example ! Wealthy people can buy anything any time and not worry about cost ! Not only that they don’t feel stuck in any rut which sometimes lead the poor to over eating out of depression etc…poor people eat mass carbs because it is cheaper and affordable…pasta etc…If I was wealthy I would have the best body ever also and fit !When you wealthy you have so much and anything you could want or desire…no wonder they take care of themselves better..they have a positive and better life and don’t have concerns and worries about everyday struggles poor people do !

      1. Mate, you don’t need exercise equipment to exercise!

        Go for a run, a swim whatever.. I don’t go to the gym or spend money on fitness trainers, dietitians or cosmetic surgery but I still have veins running up my abs.

        You don’t need money to be healthy.. and as for your comment about eating pasta, maybe just eat less??

        Take some responsibility for yourself.

        1. @David Try being too tired from malnutrition, lack of sleep and working. Yeah you can exercise on your own, but poor people are tired after working their jobs or from the lack of proper nutrition to even do some exercise.

          1. I’m too busy at work/work too many hours to ever eat more calories than I burn, I don’t have time to exercise regularly and I often buy high calorie cheap foods to cheat and consume enough calories per day. I find the poor/bad food argument hard to believe when I see a 300 lb person making the same amount of money as 120 lb me. If you were at povery level and worked 50+ hours a week, trust me, you would have trouble finding the time and the food to gain weight.

            1. there is much more to that comparison then just that simple calculation … much more

      2. Don’t buy chicken breasts, these are the most expensive cuts of chicken. You can buy 3 organic chicken drumsticks for about $4 & the meat from the drumsticks is healthier as it is closest to the bones + cartilages so it has more nutrients than the more expensive breast cuts of chicken

  2. It’s not the government’s job to ensure that we eat healthy. One day all the people who are to cowardly to take responsibility for themselves and expect the government to watch over them will cost us all of our freedoms.

    1. BS …….the Government is the reason we cannot afford healthy food !!!!!! I want healthy food !!!!!!! I want to be able to afford it !!!!!

  3. I think it’s lack of sympathy. Poor people in general are unhappy. Their failures in life are attributed to themselves. Yes, a lot of poor people make stupid decisions and are poor for that reason. The problem is that we think we’ll help them by inflicting even more guilt on them. “Of course you’re fat if you drink soft drinks and eat fast food”. “Of course youre fat if you don’t exercise and ‘take care of yourself’ whatever that is…” A lot of poor people are told directly and indirectly everyday that they are worthless and stupid. Some of them have never been loved and appreciated in their entire life (and being fat wont help with that…). The only way for them to console themselves is food and drugs (which puts them even further down the spiral of guilt and self loathing). We need to stop moralizing so much and stick to the core value that every person has an intrinsic value even if you’re poor, fat and stupid.

    1. Ive been whats considered poor and gained weight the past few years; I was expecting the article to include something about eating out of depression/unhappiness. You don’t have the extra money after buying food to afford fun fancy things to distract you and you’re too down to go do fun outdoors things, so you go to your food for comfort and try to avoid the exertion of exercise. This is my experience at least… first world problems I know ;n;

    2. I don’t think so. I think the core problem lies in the type of diet poor can consume. Richer individuals can have a choice to have a salad or some nice meat, but for many poor people, cheap carb and greasy products such as burgers and chips are their primary diet. ” Real food” in the supermarket is a lot more expansive than the food they serve in Mcdonalds.

    3. Thank you for commenting…you made sense here ! Wish everyone got it !

    4. Also, don’t forget that many people run out of food at the end of the month when they don’t have any money to buy food, so when they do get paid they binge eat to make up for the lost calories. Even if they end up eating only one meal a day or nothing at all for a week, they make up the calories and then some when they get money and buy a bunch of food. Too tired to exercise and still hungry from malnutrition.

  4. Excuse me while I brag (in a perverse way), but I’ve been poor all of my adult life. I mean getting-welfare-cheques poor. I’ve been evicted twice for nonpayment of rent. But I’m thin, and always have been, even though I eat junk food every day. Obesity has a strong genetic component, and I don’t have the genes for weight gain.

    What I think is, it’s not that poverty makes you fat but being fat predisposes you to being poor. I know poor people (because I am one) and most of the poor people I know have personal handicaps that make them unattractive to other people. A common problem among the poor is that so many of them are not too bright. Most people just don’t like stupid people, and won’t work with them. Similarly, many poor people are just naturally fat, and the unattractiveness of obesity, in congress with being dumb, makes them vastly more likely to be unemployed. You can be fat and smart, and still have a job. You can be healthy and strong, but dumb, and still hold a job. But you can’t be both dumb and fat and stay employed for very long. That’s what I know from personal, up-close observation of the poor.

    Incidentally, I’m poor because I’m lazy. But I’m thin, and I’m smart enough to know how to punctuate a sentence.

    1. I’m poor because my parents are poor. My mom is mentally ill and lives on disability. My father is in jail. I failed in high school not because I was stupid, but because I was made fun of for being fat. Thus I became even more depressed and stopped going. Places don’t want to hire me because they automatically assume things because of my school record. No one wants to hire a fat, depressed person who missed 120 days of the 9th grade year. When I was in elementary school I made straight As. I also cannot afford new clothes often and still wear things from 7 years ago. I basically wear things that are given to me and wear them until they have too many holes in them. How am I supposed to dress nicely for an interview or for a job if I can’t afford new clothes? How am I supposed to get hired if I don’t look the part? How can I afford new clothes if I don’t have a job? It’s a cycle that holds people down no matter how hard they try to break free. Not even Mc donalds will hire me and that is saying something.

  5. Priorities priorities priorities………………..
    Drive through the poorest areas of the Bronx and take some pictures.
    Everybody is walking around with tattoos from head to toe!
    The newest phones & gadgets.
    Expensive cars parked all around the projects.
    Those things cost MONEY
    DRUGS cost MONEY
    Most poorer people have little common sense and/or education!
    How else do you explain 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation Latin Americans not speaking any English???
    African Americans speak a completely different dialect of English!!!
    They can’t read, write, comprehend etc etc etc
    We all have choices in this country!!!
    You can be fat, muscular, skinny; if you want to be!!!

    1. That was an ignorant comment… Not all African Americans speak in a different manner. It’s all about education. If you don’t know what healthy eating habits are you can’t adopt them. I have several white American friends who think diet pepsi is a meal. If your parents taught you healthy eating habits then you will eat healthy. Its a learned behavior not a racial issue.

      1. I disagree Ann. We live in an information age. You cannot blame your upbringing for your life decisions. Once you become an adult, you are suposed to better yourself, learn how to take care of you and yours. Be responsible. To say “My daddy didn’t teach me how to eat”, does not excuse you being fat and increasing the healthcare cost for the rest of us to pay. Does anyone’s parents teach us how to have sex? I doubt it, but I bet they know how to have sex. So they obviously sought out the needed info to learn it.

        Address the personal responsibility issue, and half of our problems will go away.

  6. It sounds logical, but it’s not. If it’s just purchasing cheap calories that makes people, then perhaps those obese people are buying too many calories that happen to be cheap. If you consume more calories than you expend, you gain weight. If one needs 2000 calories/ day, then how many cheeseburgers and fries are obese people buying? Way too many. It just might be less expensive for them to buy some rice, fruit and some eggs rather than the junk food.

    1. Except they’re not on some days I don’t eat anything and on some days I have but one meal all less than 1000 calories. That leads to the feeling of hunger and tiredness which discourages exercise. Lack of exercise and proper nutrition factor in as well.

    2. This is the only reasonable comment on this page. None of the other stuff people are bringing up explains why people consumer more calories than they need. It may be that cheap calories (junk food) are more palatable and likely to be overconsumed, but cheapness is not a sufficient explanation. In fact, cheap calories should be good thing for the poor.

  7. Grest article. Sadly, the comments show it wasn’t fully undestood. Those ‘blaming’ the poor (unbelievably many do here) should re-read the point about the price of broccoli. Oh, and a huge percentage of ‘poor’ people (here in he UK as well as stateside) have mental health issues

    1. thank you also for your sensible comment….why don’t people just get it ?

    2. Except a head of Broccoli is not $3, it’s $1.50, and a Super Value meal is not $3.00 either, It’s $6.00

    3. And, a huge percentage of mental health issues are best alleviated or eliminated by through proper nutrition and sleep. Which means needing to have less stress for the sake of sleeping and digestion, better food (more natural, less pesticides), less noise (from police sirens, mentally ill neighbors who also can’t sleep) – not through over-medication.

      Yet, what is given to poor people who are mentally ill? Often, they can get the medication, but, not the relieving of stressful situations, not the better food, and the medication usually worsens digestion /absorption of vitamins and minerals.

      Therefore, the help that is most needed is actually moved further away and all that is left is the “help” that only helps the other people be less inconvenienced by the slow death of the poor.

  8. I am poor and I’m of normal weight, athletic and quite healthy. Age 43 female.
    The reason I’m not fat is because my pancreas aren’t exhausted to the point of being insulin resistant. This happens to most Americans because the parents let their kids grow up on junk food to pacify them rather than teaching them the laws of obeying mother nature.
    I grew up in a country that had NO junk foods available, the only thing there was industrialized foods, feedlot pork, pesticide lettuce and the apples were probably GMO…

    Point is, if you start beating up your pancreas starting at age 1 or even 6 mo. olds with a high carb diet, regardless if it’s organic rice or Dorito Chips, you’re most likely to be fat by the time you’re 25.

    Don’t exhaust your glands!

      1. See Its so funny when i was poor and homless I was starving and weighed 160IB, when I was working in the oil patch, I was well off, but i worked my ass off everyday until i puked or felt like puking from muscle pain and exhaustion, and I weighed 190IB had a 30 in waste and didnt gain or lose weight after that point.

        now I work I eat as they said I buy ingredient not food with alot of ingredient. I dont like processed food that just mean more people coffed in it and it has more chemicals, So anyhow i do not work out nor does my job give me much excericise, i weigh 185-190, I am nto trying to control my weigh, just eat healthy fresh food, i have a 34 inch waste, and i dont care.

        but I do wonder if someone that is 380ib should be 380 ib of fat or muscle depending o weatehr they get alot of phyicial activity or non at all.

        but after all this matters

    1. I’m poor and extremely overweight due to long term health issues. I grew up with a lot of physical activity, eating a lot more vegetables and fruit than many people had access to and a lot less junk food than most of the children from better economic classes in the area. Much of the food we ate in the summer grew wild or came from our garden. My mother baked our own bread, most of the time. We ate a lot of canned vegetables in the wintertime, as fresh were not affordable, pretty much ever, due to double-taxation which is illegal but which still happened.

      But, despite that I had constant allergies and got ill a lot with things I didn’t know about, I did alright enough, up until my mother was forced to go to work and we lost most of the eating of the wild or home grown foods and went to store bought produce, which meant mostly frozen or canned vegetables.

      I did worse, but, I muddled along. Then, I married a horrible man – not on purpose, but it happened – and that fully exhausted my adrenal glands and permanently screwed up my cortisol levels, due to constant stress, which had already been having problems.

      The problems were mostly not food related, at that point, ever. It was stress from going to school with bigoted children who hated me for being more intelligent than them while being more poor than they were and who hated me from being from where I was from, even though it was where they were.

      Stress is a huge factor in whether or not a person is healthy or unhealthy.Junk food can cause stress, absolutely. But, it is definitely not the only stressor in the life of the poor.

      Your statement about “most Americans” is just disgusting. Most Americans do not actively raise their children on junk food. At least, not on things that should be junk food. Most people who can will give their baby the rice cereal, strained veggies, little potted meats when they are old enough to eat such things, and, not just stuff a doughnut in its mouth. Or, they will grind up the vegetables and meats they eat for the same purpose. They do not go out of their way to find GMO, pesticide-laden foods or to add extra sugar into every would-be nutritional bite.

      That’s the corporations that do that. It is the government that allows it. Most American parents want to be good parents and do their best to raise healthy children, but, are surrounded and bombarded by crap masquerading as healthy foods.

      You are putting the blame on innocent people and adding to the problem of unwarranted prejudice. Shame on you!

  9. Whatever your income status not being overweight takes focus and will. One has to regulate how much calories consumed whether they are Twinkies or carrots. Exercise will allow one to eat more without gaining weight, poor people don’t excersize because they are lazy. So really it about conscious effort as both rich and poor are surrounded by calories that they need to reject in order to not gain weight.
    So it all about will power and control over one’s own body, people with this will power also tend to be wealthier as the same will power as enabled them to complete as masters degree and work 70 hrs a week at a job and invest money wisely. Also not overspend and go into debt or get divorced, all of things that lead to poverty.

    1. It’s about will when you can afford to have enough food. A lot of times it’s cheaper to have a full meal from say McDonald’s than it is to have a full healthy meal consisting of, I don’t know, chicken, rice and vegetables. Say you only have five dollars to eat for the day would you go to the store and buy only a small portion of veggies (that probably isn’t good quality due the conditions in these neighborhoods)and maybe a little chicken or a few value burgers? It’s like asking would you rather have one small meal or enough food to stretch through out the day…
      Also, I don’t understand what you mean by lazy. What you didn’t consider is some of these people are working more than one job, long hours, just to get pay for rent, not leaving any money for food. Some of them are working just as much as the wealthy people that you referred to they’re just not making as much per hour. Of course it’s because they didn’t get a college degree but maybe there is no way they could. And if they took out a ton of loans just to get through it then they would still become indebted.

  10. I eat healthy the first part of the month and my weight comes down and I feel great…but then run out of money for healthy foods and end up eating more carbs..then my weight goes up and I feel sick…If I could afford fresh food like fresh veges and fruit and healthy lean meats all month long I would be awesomely fit all the time and feeling healthy !

  11. Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end
    or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  12. Wow, some of you are really self-righteous and judgmental. Poor people are fat and lazy, really?! I dare any of you just walk in someone else’s shoes for a day and see how your opinion differs. Walk in mine (if you fancy to wear a size 7 1/2)- fully employed and insured. Had to have my baby girl 3 months early. She weighed 1 lb 12 oz and spent over 90 days in the NICU. $700,000 worth of bills (insurance keeps trying to not pay as much as possible), loss wages, extra gas for the daily trips to the hospital, pumping milk many times a day for my baby so she doesn’t have to drink formula (riddled with bad ingredients) still trying to fit in family time for my other daughter, maintain employment, gained 15-20 lbs (some people can’t eat during stressful times, others do. I did)…You call someone like me lazy? It only takes one incident to turn your life upside down. Just because you might be doing “ok” today, doesn’t mean you will continue to do so tomorrow. It will take years for me to recover financially. There are many, many others who are much worse off than me. I consider myself lucky despite everything. And for those who say the government shouldn’t take care of you? Well, why the hell not? We certainly take care of them, don’t we??? It’s ok for them to get huge salaries and go golfing every day possible, while the rest of us work full-time jobs and still can’t get very far.

    1. Your absolutely right!!!!! You can’t control life. I work in the emergency department of a hospital & see all too well how someone’s life can be turned upside down financially. Being poor can happen to anyone.

  13. Like if ALL vegatables were FREE, poor people would eat them???? Guess again!!! Food stamp folks buy junk food because it requires NO preparation and is easy to eat…period. A CHOICE they make on their own. For the most most part, being fat is a CHOICE.

    1. I would so totally eat veggies if they were free. I like veggies and fruit but I can’t afford to eat many of them as they go bad quickly and are expensive. The money I would spend on food would be spent on other things like new clothes and such.

  14. The good Dr. Drewnowski might be absolutely correct in his assessments of pricing Calorie per Calorie. The problem is that, that measurement is the wrong number to assess for determining the AMOUNT of food you can buy and eat, pound for pound and proper portion serving per proper portion serving. Lays company lists a proper portion of their Classic Potato Chips as 1 ounce and 160 Calories. You would have to eat almost an entire pound of Carrots to get about the same amount of Calories. A LOT MORE FOOD FOR YOUR DOLLAR. Not that I would ever recommend either amount of these two as a serving, but it is amazingly cheaper to eat an entire pound of boiled eggs for breakfast then it is to eat a whole pound of any sweetened, name brand cereal. STOP allowing huge food companies to make billions of dollars in profits selling us foods TO MAKE US FAT! Some of those same companies also advertise and sell the diet pills and diet foods they say will help you lose the weight. They profit from engineering the foods to make you eat more. Then, they make billions more in profits by selling you the diet pills and “diet” foods to help you lose it. Those companies hope you never figure it out and start eating better.

    Poverty is certainly not the main reason for most individuals becoming overweight! Regardless of their economic situation, they certainly have had the opportunity to acquire enough food in sufficient quantities to consume more each day then their bodies clinically required to maintain a healthier body weight. Eating less, even for a person experiencing poverty, would cost them less as well. No one needs to spend MORE money to eat better. People do not become overweight by eating too little. First and foremost, there are literally hundreds of pages and websites found in a 10 second search online, that clearly list dozens and dozens of HEALTHY food suggestions which ALL cost LESS THAN $1 per pound! Dried beans, rice, whole chicken, vegetables, fruits and low fat milk, ETC. And for many people, drinking water is available right out of the faucet for no additional charge at all. ALL of these choices costing less than the less healthy prepared foods and beverages that many people already purchase. Secondly, without changing a single food that people already purchase, people could simply eat only 3/4 of each of the meals and snacks they already purchase and consume. This would cost them LESS money AND trim their calorie intake daily, without substituting a single one of the foods they currently eat for healthier choices. Lastly, going for short walks to increase their daily physical activity costs nothing. And, walking is certainly something that the majority of overweight people can still do physically. I readily acknowledge that genetics, depression, medications, physical injuries, physical limitations, metabolic and brain chemistry imbalances all can and do play a part in the already overwhelming overweight equation. But, practically each one of those disabilities can be reduced and in many cases eliminated by incorporating more and more small, progressive, healthier life style changes into their daily routine.

    Although I am a huge advocate for buying less expensive AND healthier foods to feed MY family, we must acknowledge, that there are still those who are so cemented into their routines and their habits that they will refuse to substitute the foods they eat for cheaper and healthier choices. Regardless of the fact that those are the very foods that have contributed to their excessive weight. For any of those unwilling, or in their opinion, unable (for whatever reason) to switch to healthier foods, I would politely like to propose a simple suggestion. For the next 90 days only;
    #1 Substitute every OTHER drink you would normally have, with a large glass of water.

    #2 Eat only 3/4’s of each meal and each snack you would normally have had anyway. Give the extra food to anyone who can use it, or save it for another meal, so it is not wasted.

    #3 Every time a commercial comes on tv, get up and walk around your home and DO NOT sit down again until the regular show comes back on. Never be sitting while a commercial is on. If you don’t have a tv, at least once every hour, get up and walk anywhere for a few minutes. If you can safely walk outside where you live, go out and walk to the closest telephone or light pole, touch it and walk back home. Each time you go out to walk, walk to the next pole further away, (adding one more every time) touch that one and walk back home. If you are unable to walk, do whatever physical activity you can, that will keep your body moving for the duration of those few minutes.

    At the end of the 90 days of honestly following these cost saving suggestions, please post back in here, exactly how much more money it truly cost you and exactly how much weight you gained after the three months?

  15. If I only had $3.50 to eat today, I would get a bag of potatoes and a bag of dried beans. That would actually feed me for several days. I could do a bag of rice and a bag lentils for tomorrow’s $3.50, and once again eat several times. Choices….

    1. I agree with your comment, everyone’s situation is different,It seems people thinking it’s the government’s job to take care of them and throwing money and giving people everything for free,look at every inner city in the United States it’s a total disaster.

  16. I feel that no one has taken into account the time factor and knowledge it takes to prepare a nutritional meal for yourself or family. I have 3 children, have been on foodstamps, have been off food stamps, have been a single mom working a salaried position job. I am currently a college student and working part time. I have made the decision, in part because of my boyfriend, not to get back on food stamps. I wish I had learned about meal planning and couponing when I had been on food stamps. I also wish I had learned about budgeting. It has taken me ten years to break out of the way I grew up. I grew up in a low income family that considered hamburger helper a meal. No one taught me how to cook. There were also many nights that we would just find something in the kitchen to make for dinner, like top ramen or mac and cheese. Growing up like this, I started out with my first years as a parent doing the same for my kids. When you live like that, and get your foodstamps at the beginning of the month, you tend to be really hungry because they ran out at the end of the month and you were just eating top ramen for the last week, so you binge buy a bunch of instant food that looks good and takes no time to prep. Thus repeats the cycle every month. If this is how you grow up, ultimately you don’t know any other way to live. Cooking is not a skill that you just do. And preparing a meal plan isn’t something you instantly know once you become an adult. These things take time and effort, that many people don’t have. Yes, you can buy a bag of potatoes for cheap. Chicken is cheap. But then you have to cook it. A mother who has just finished an 8 hour shift at one job, and a 4 hour shift at another, quite frankly probably doesn’t have the energy to go spend an hour, or even half an hour in the kitchen. After that then there are dishes that have to be done, and the clean up from the meal you just made. It is a lot of work. To create a proper meal plan where you get the most for your time and money is not an easy task. If you werent taught these skills it takes a lot of work to learn them on your own. Not to mention, most the highly processed foods are now becoming addictive, people don’t even like the taste of natural foods anymore because we are 3 generations into this horrible processed food creation. Yes, the knowledge is out there and easily accessible, but not everyone knows how to find it, and with the internet these days any argument or knowledge you find can be counteracted just as easily. One site will say potatoes are good for you. One site will say potatoes are bad for you. This is so much deeper than just saying poor people are fat and lazy.

  17. Water is considerably cheaper than a lot of those sugary sodas people drink.

    Here’s a simple suggestion to start with. How about replacing some or all of those sodas you have with a meal with water? Do that for a week and the cost savings will be enough to afford better food.

    Yes, I know some will reply with the “what, you expect me to start drinking water?” comment. My reply to that anticipated comeback is that it’s your choice entirely. Just don’t complain when you suffer from diabetes or some other condition related to the amount of sugar you eat.

  18. Ever looked at the mortgage rate of a population? If you look at the charts of mortgage and age and you compare this debt rate to the obesity charts and age of the population groups, in my country you see a steep rise of obesity in the group of people between 20-30 years old and a steep rise of the mortgage rate between 20-30. The age 30-40 has a less steep rise of both obesity and mortgage rate.
    40-50: a less steep rise of obesity and a less steep rise of the mortgage rate. Then the age of 60-70 you see a decline of obesity and a decline of the mortgage rate. Also between 70-80 a decline of obesity and a decline of the mortgage rate. Same story for 80+. So is it related to stress or to the mortgage you have? I don’t believe people older then 70 have a better metabolism then younger people or they exercise more? That’s not possible.

  19. So many ignorant people blogging these days that it is impossible to set the record straight.

    The largest reason so many poor people are overweight and eventually sick is they do not pay for their food or health care. Very little research is needed to prove that eating healthful is less expensive that the manner the poor people eat. How many foods do you know that are cheaper than beans, lentils and cabbage? Certainly the processed foods and meat that poor people eat are not cheaper. If the diet is not bad enough add to that many smoke and drink too much. They can afford to buy that junkie fried chicken at KFC but not make home-cooked beans. Later in life they are not worried about all the drugs and operations they will need because they are not paying for them or the medical insurance.
    Not like all the well-educated and highly-paid folks are doing all that well either. The food supply world-wide has deteriorated thanks to super-large agriculture farms for beef, pork and poultry joined by a food processing industry very willing to get you addicted to sugar and other additives. Many continue to suck down as much daily soda as they can afford and skip the water.

  20. I can tell you as a poor person who suffers from Fibromyalgia, celiac disease, casein intolerance, and a few other things, that they have solved the problem. It is a final solution.

    They have made it impossible for poor people to afford healthcare and to get the healthcare they need, when they can get any, by changing the healthcare system. Yes, you can go for things that cause doctors to send you home with advice to take cold medicine and get some rest, but, there is no help, for most of us, who have serious medical issues. Well, and, in way, that makes sense, because, nothing can be done about them, except for things like taking in nutritional foods, getting rest and fresh air and sunshine. But, to get rest, you must be allowed the luxury of rest. To get fresh air, it must exist.

    This means you must be able to live where fresh air is, or, afford the sort of plants that clean the air where you are forced to live, where government standards allow so much build up of mold/mildew and other allergens/toxins that many people wake up in pain, disoriented, having vision problems and are unable to work simply from that.

    These people then have to go to work or go look for work How do they do that with no energy, having gotten bad sleep and having trouble breathing while awake? Oh, let’s give them caffeine and sugar, which are still affordable, because, they have no time to think of better health choices. If they do not make it to school or to work and get through the day there they will have their benefits cut off and/or lose their home, which is a bad home but at least it is some shelter from most predators.

    Everything in the life of most poor people is designed to keep them unhealthy and poor.

    I am chronically ill, but, considered able-bodied. Why? Because, public assistance health insurance does not allow me to even be properly tested to prove that I have a problem that requires special care. Why? Because, they want me off public assistance and the best way to accomplish that is to let me die from my health issues. It is cheaper than fixing the problem.

    Why else do you think it is that they will pay to give you antibiotics to kill some of the infection when your teeth go bad, but, they will not pay to have your teeth pulled and they definitely will not pay to get your teeth cleaned and to have cavities filled?

    If your teeth were cleaned and you were eating good food, you might live a long time and remain poor, getting tax refunds due to the fact that you are not getting paid enough to have a decent life without these public assistance benefits.

    It is insane, of course. Because,there are countries where people manage to be rich, while allowing the poor to have better lives. This makes the rich people safer and adds to the quality of everyone’s lives. Therefore, if a country chooses to do something that oppresses the poor, destroys their health and causes them to live miserable lives which often lead to early deaths- whether through disease, suicide or criminal activity as a means of trying to escape disease and suicide – it can be nothing more than that it is a deliberate choice of the upper echelons of society to destroy the lower echelons.

    Right now, I am 2 months away from not being able to get any food at all, except what I can afford with the only job that I can get. Which is a job that pays, generally, about $200 per month- sometimes much less. That will be all the money available, not including the taxes they take out of that $200 or less, to feed two people. I am living in a situation where my family owns a building so I don’t have to pay them much to stay in it, and, my son who has Asperger’s, is covered to get his meds by the public assistance office still, at this point, but, because they consider me, a person who can’t even perform all the basic daily tasks needed for getting by throughout the day (like cooking, washing dishes) able-bodied enough to work at least 20 hours a week on top of all the other things I am not even able to accomplish, I won’t receive food stamps, anymore, after December. Not for at least 36 months.

    I can’t eat the sort of food that is given out at most food banks nor do I have transportation to get to one. I have no degree, as I have been poor and ill all my life. Even to get a receptionist or file clerk type job things like proof of a driving record (which I have never had), a degree (ditto), insurance (ditto) and reliable transportation are required. Now, I might be able to work a job like that, part time, if it was really close by. But, I can’t get one! The jobs where I might be hired, fast food type jobs, are too hard for me to perform anymore.

    The job I have is at home, as a copy editor. I am barely holding onto it, because, my vision is so poor and my joints are stiff, etc. Because, I can’t really afford to eat how I need to eat for better health, because, I can’t afford a nutritionist to help me get through the maze of what I should not eat and to help me figure out what is affordable that will make for a fairly balanced diet and because of lack of transportation and because the prices of healthy groceries have raised considerably while the food stamps have been cut and the DES keeps playing games wherein they make it impossible to reapply on time and then, because you didn’t quite make it, you get half the food stamps you might have gotten for the first month, and, reasons such as that.

    This is not about thoughtlessness on the part of big business. This is not about a few greedy people. This is an entire system dedicated to the eradication of the poor, in a way that will make the middle class and upper class who might have been more sympathetic, glad it happened, since the poor have become such a burden with their poor health, crime and etc.

    But, what you need to understand is that a poor person, left to their own devices, given a chance to have decent food (whether that is by having their own garden or getting better food from the food bank or whatever) is generally not a criminal or a burden on society. They are just the people who live more simply and do the work that you can afford to pay other people to do. Or, they are the people who blossom intellectually, athletically or artistically into something so fabulous they move into a different economic class.

    So, instead of judging a poor person without knowing them – instead of asking them questions and then being overwhelmed by all the “can’t” talk and assuming they are simply making excuses – please take the time to listen and think. Because, sometimes, the solution is as simple as offering someone a bus pass, a ride to town, a new set of inexpensive clothing to go to an interview in, dropping off some fresh vegetables from your garden, giving a ride to the doctor, etc.

    Why should you do it? Well, technically, it isn’t a matter of should. It isn’t your responsibility. But, it does help to alleviate your burden, too.

  21. I don’t eat junk food most of the time and I am definitely poor and definitely fat.

    But, I am definitely stressed out and have intolerances to some foods that I am just learning about. These happen to be the foods that are most easily found and afforded.

    By the way, I mean I am just learning about the intolerances, not the foods. So, anyway, it is not even necessarily that the poor people have to make that judgment call about filling their gut up with the cheap fast food or not even filing up on something healthier. This does happen, sometimes, sure; but, it’s that even when you think you are eating healthier foods, you have to so often eat the same kinds of foods that you develop allergies and intolerances.

    Wheat, corn, soy, sugar, milk and eggs are in mostly everything that you can afford to buy such as bread, cereal, noodles, etc. But, they are also in unexpected places, like wheat added to french fries, soy added to boneless skinless chicken, milk added to canned tuna, high-fructose corn syrup added to barbecue sauce, soups and darned near everything else. Then there is the bromine, carrageenan, and other odd additives that are not even fit for human consumption.

    I was ill for well over a year from eating the most wholesome foods possible. I was not eating a lot of starches, I was eating mostly vegetables and only a little meat, not drinking sodas (sugary or diet ones, either), taking in a good lot of vitamin c, iron, leafy greens, a little oil that was mostly extra virgin olive or coconut oil, good quality spices, fresh herbs and I was eating a lot of salads and having a lot of broth-sauteed vegetable dishes. There was no fast food involved, unless by fast you mean raw or only lightly cooked.

    But, I got very ill, could barely move, couldn’t sleep, almost lost my job because I was barely functional.

    Why? Night shade veggies, dairy found in the canned tuna, gluten intolerance – I had no idea! No clue! No medical help related to these problems. I already knew I was having a problem with dairy, but, I had no reason to believe I would find it in canned tuna. It isn’t listed as an ingredient! I did not know I had a problem with gluten, at all or that I was allergic to nightshade vegetables. I only found out about night shades because tomatoes, eggplant and peppers were often on a really good sale so during that time I had to eat a lot of them.

    So, yes, it always goes back to what is most affordable for the poor. But, in my case, it wasn’t about eating over-processed crap. It was about not getting enough variety.

    The thing is, on some things that are written about, above, there are still some assumptions that need to be altered, even in the thinking of the well-meaning. Like, yes, you can use a $1 to only buy so much orange juice as compared to cookies, carrots or whatever else you want to compare it to. but, no one needs orange juice. It’s basically worthless. A poor person shouldn’t even be looking at orange juice, sideways, unless it is in extremely limited quantities and used for flavoring, such as using a little concentrated orange juice on a cheap chicken hindquarter, along with some garlic and cinnamon, to make something a little different for an otherwise “same ol’ same ol’ ” meal. Which is great, and, it is an affordable luxury for most, since it is quite possible to use a little bit of the can of juice and save the rest for other meals throughout the year.

    Oranges often don’t cost that much and you can split an orange in half. And, here is something that most people do not understand, because, it simply is not a part of their lives until it has to be:

    Buying a more expensive loaf of bread that has more nutrition to it can actually lessen your grocery bill. How? Quite simply because a lot of times when a person is not satisfied with the meal they had, it has nothing to do with volume. If you give a person a very nutritious sandwich made of high quality bread, with some or a lot of vegetables, even more so if you can use good quality soy free mayo and the best quality meat possible (if you use meat), or, even if it is peanut butter and jelly, it is so much more nutritionally satisfying that the person doesn’t feel the need to eat two or more sandwiches. Especially if you have them eat a salad along with it, but, even by itself.

    Shop for nutrition, as best as you know how, and, then find what will add more flavor to make that nutrition more palatable. Nutrition of a mid-range variety doesn’t usually cost that much.

    What do I mean by mid-range? I mean, fresh vegetables, but, not organic. Or, frozen vegetables. Though, sometimes, organic vegetables are close enough in price it is worth it to get them.

    A bottle of Ranch dressing, which is not very good for anyone, often costs $1.50 -$3.99 and is gone quicker than a wink. A bottle of a ranch dressing blend of dried herbs often costs around $2.99 -$5 and can last months. Mayonnaise, yogurt, coconut yogurt, will also cost more initially, than the bottle of ranch dressing, in most cases; but, they have better nutrition and more uses. Plus, the fact that they don’t already taste like Ranch dressing means less people will overindulge on them.

    A spaghetti dinner made with just canned or bottled sauce, with or without added meat, is pretty expensive for how far it goes and has just about zero nutrition. A spaghetti dinner made exactly the same way but with added mushrooms, sauteed Roma tomatoes, canned black olives, finely minced eggplant and/or zucchini, extra spices, maybe with some spaghetti squash added, goes so much further that the added expense is defrayed by the fact that you can probably save half or more of the sauce for another meal, and, by the fact that people will need to eat much less of it to be satisfied. Plus, if you learn to add a little anise or fennel seed to the meat, you can use ordinary hamburger instead of Italian sausage, if that’s something you normally use, and, you will save even more.

    And, the menu thing – yeah, that’s not really for poor people. If you can shop and get everything for a menu, you aren’t poor. At least, not that poor. Or, you have a really bad menu plan. Because, most poor people, truly poor people, have to figure out what to do with whatever comes out of a food bank, is in the clearance section, grows nearby at this season, or which is currently on sale at the store(s) they can get to.

    It does no good to say “I think we should eat blueberries and steel cut oats for breakfast on Monday.” because, yeah, maybe you should, but, are the blueberries on sale and if they are can you afford them and do you have the ability to find steel cut oats and the time to cook them, or the know-how to get them partially prepared before its time to cook breakfast?

    Most poor people are living more from day to day, but, shopping for a month or half a month at a time, at the same time. It’s their goal to stock up on what is cheap, when it is the cheapest, that will last for the most part of the month, and, then use whatever is left of money or food stamps to make it interesting.

    I tried living by following a menu made of inexpensive but healthy dishes and I couldn’t do it. You have to know what is on sale and then when you know what is on sale, you have to know how much of it the store has versus what you need and there is the problem of storage, having enough pans in the case of the “cook once, eat twice” sort of meals, and, just all sorts of problems that the middle class can usually handle, even the lower middle class who think they are poor but whom are really not poor at all.

    Poor people do not follow menus. It does you no good, and them a world of harm, for you to harass them with the idea of menu planning. It is far better to say, “Get the sale ads from the store you can get to, find the best nutritional items for the week to make the sort of meals you need to make, and, then see if you can add in a little treat, too.” And, if it is something on a pretty good sale, so you think you can store it and use it during other weeks, too, get it. Like, if you normally can only afford the $1 bread, but, for some reason the $4.99 bread is $2 this week, and, you know it is better nutritionally, get the extra loaves to store in the freezer, as many as you can afford, are allowed to get and can store. That’s a step up nutritionally. And, it will make a big difference in the long run.

    If you know you are going to run out of food by the end of the month and end up at the food bank, go to the food bank early to get the beans and rice. Then, use some of the money or food stamps that you still have to get some good vegetables to add to them.

    There’s all sorts of things that can be done, but, it all starts with considering nutrition above every other criteria. And, that consideration also is all about what works for the weakest, sickest member of the family. Because, what works for them can also usually be utilized by the other members, if it is cheap and needs to be utilized by them. But, if it is expensive and only for them, the question is will it last a long time and keep well- how can that happen? And, if not, is it really needed or is it only so they won’t feel left out because the other family members get to have a cheaper version? And, if it is not needed, is it really needed for the other family members?

    Mayonnaise, for instance. is not usually a necessity. Avocados are often on sale near places where many Hispanic/Latino people live and they are nutritious ways to make a spread for a sandwich. If you can eat beans, hummus can be made at home and is an inexpensive alternative to both mayonnaise and meat on a sandwich. So, an alternative to buying expensive mayo for one and inexpensive mayo for another one or many, might be to buy beans or avocados for all. Or to use a little oil. Or, to stop eating sandwiches and eat salads,instead.

    Poor people need to think. Thinking is hard to do for some poor people. So, what they really need are people who can think, who are capable of and willing to understand their circumstances, who can help them think in regard to those circumstances and how to make them better. But, what they get is people who tell them to think for themselves and then give mild suggestions for things that don’t even work for their circumstances or pity them in regards to what is not even their circumstances, more often than not.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the article and I can see a lot of good in it. But, even though it is true that there are poor people who feel they have to choose between a full belly or something approaching nutrition, it is more true that a lot of poor people make a serious effort to have proper nutrition but they lack the ability to obtain variety and stress relief.

  22. I’m poor and not fat. I can’t fathom how fat people can afford the high caloric intake required to gain so much weight.

    Junk food is expensive, man. I could survive on rice and pasta alone for much cheaper albeit nutritional deficits. Not everyone can afford a pizza each day for dinner, McDonalds for lunch and breakfast.

    Maybe its just poor people who are really good with budgeting their money for huge amounts of cheap, high calorie food, and eating it constantly.

    1. It’s pretty simple. Kraft Mac and Cheese, Rice-A-Roni, ramen, cup noodles, dollar burritos, hamburgers, pizza, microwave dinners. Those are pretty cheap items that pack a wallop of calories.

  23. Superb article. Nicely elaborates the forces behind what’s going on in the obesity crisis. Highly recommended. Bravo to the author.

  24. Nice article! A wealthy person remains wealthy and poor persons stays poor, even though they spend complete time at their work, poor’s do not get time for maintaining their health nor get good foods for the survival! This is the main reason I hope.

  25. Many years ago at college, we undergraduate students helped some graduate social scientists with some surveys.

    What we found was that many fat poor people used food as their main source of celebration.

    So for birthdays, many poor fat people might splurge and go to a favorite resturant or alternately they might stay home and cook a special meal—and this and watching TV or a movie are their celebration.

    Food is needed to live, but at the survival level—food is celebrated. Poor fat people often spend their money on food, because it is needed anyway and eat to much—because a celebration involving food is often the only celebration they can afford.

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