Why are low-income people statistically more obese than higher income people? They aren’t more obese– at least not in an all-inclusive sort of way. According to the Food Research and Action Center, low-income women and children are far more likely to be obese than men. Considering six out of seven custodial parents are women, according to a 2009 United States Census report, there isn’t much of a leap to consider the impact of mobility constraints for low-income people who are raising children and how those constraints affect food options and activity levels.
Transportation Is a Huge Issue Affecting Food Options
The misconception that low-income people in the obesity statistic pool are opting for convenience or taste dismisses some of the more practical options for people who have limited or no transportation. Shelf-stable foods such as ramen noodles, boxed pasta and pasta helpers, cured meats and snack foods fill a cart and widen waistlines on a very small budget. In my community travels to preferred shopping destinations with people who have limited transportation, I’ve found I could buy laundry soap, dish soap, toddler T-shirts, packs of hot dogs, bologna, pasta, ramen noodles, coffee creamer, cereal, several bottles of Iced tea, packaged sausage, perfume, a few loaves of white bread, two bags of hot dog buns, and a variety of chips for under $35 at a local $1 shop.
Considering the pressure one might feel when asking for a ride into town to shop, the option to traverse several grocery stores to load up on produce poses a ridiculous demand on the chauffeur. If one doesn’t have a car, she may be too humble to suggest, “Can you take me to the dollar shop to buy some staples. Then to the farmer’s market further up the road. Then to the big grocery store even further into town for some quality meats at a reasonable price?”
Consider, too, that low-income people often live outside the walking or biking distance from full-on grocery stores that have decently priced produce, meats and other nutritious items. Even low income people who own their own cars may struggle with gasoline prices.
Single Moms With Tots Struggle With Time, Tastes, and Money
Most of us recognize the picky tastes of toddlers when trying to introduce healthy, non-obesity causing foods to them; however, even the most health conscious of moms may concede a victory to the frozen chicken nugget on occasion. For some low-income people, cooked carrots and broccoli are a no-brainer; however, the risk of having to toss most of it in the trash after winning the victory of a few licks and a half of a nibble is too big of a gamble. A kid needs to eat, and if a hot-dog with a pickle and a side of canned corn is a sure-fire tummy-filler, taking a gamble on head of broccoli which will wilt after a week and costs $2.50 for one family meal is a bit of a gamble.
The single mom is either working or has difficulty working, because her children need to go somewhere when she works. If she’s staying at home with the babes, it is not likely that she can afford reliable transportation, and if she’s working, her day is quite a long day. She’s dropping her toddlers off at daycare while the roosters are still singing, then going to work, then picking them up. If she is making minimum wage or just above it, the gas it takes to travel 10 miles cost a half-hour of her time, and her time is fairly short-changed as is her wallet. Tired kids make a shopping trip even longer, especially when mom is tired too. Mom is not going to travel in the opposite direction (costing another half hour of her work day) hoping to find a good deal on produce if she can just stop at a dollar shop on the way home so she can make something quick and cheap, like macaroni and cheese with sliced hot dogs, or ramen noodles with black beans, or spaghetti with no meat and canned tomato sauce.
Food Banks Are Like Junk Food Stops
I’ve gone to a food bank. It’s not the highlight of my pride or anything, but I did take the advice of some very nice neighbors and took that gamble. At the very least, I got the scoop on the goods, and the foods from the bank, as generous and awesome as they are to receive, might contribute slightly to the journey of becoming obese. We got some good stuff, though: grapes, bread, pork chops and canned veggies and tuna. Half of what we got was fun stuff: brownie mix, a box of cookies, processed morning cookie bars, a small cake, and a bag of snack mix.
It’s kind of heartwarming to think that people who donate to food banks consider that those who visit the bank may not need a cake or cookies, but that they could use the uplifting joy of a mouth full of deliciousness. In the interest of not wasting a bit of precious food received from such a bank, though, such goodies do little to prevent the potential of expanding the obesity epidemic.
Low-Income Mothers Aren’t Making Choices, Really
Not all low-income mothers are uneducated or unwilling to work. Many mothers are not making the decision to stay home simply because it’s a moral decision. Some moms stay home because the cost of employment outweighs the cost of gasoline and childcare, regardless of the mother’s intense desire to work in society. Sarah Kendzior, from St. Louis, wrote an article about mothers and the workforce entitled, “Mothers are not ‘Opting out,’ — They are out of Options.” Kendzior succinctly articulates the facade of choices that mothers are supposedly making when considering working high income jobs or considering staying at home. Kendzior compares mothers’ working options to the options they give their children, “Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt? Would you like the carrots or the apple? It’s your choice.” Within that question is a choice, but it is a limited choice. Shirts come in more colors than red and blue, and there are far more options to eat than just apples and carrots.
Blogger Zondra Hughes of Six Brown Chicks for Chicagonow.com, notes the usual demand for mothers to teach, nourish, and nurture their children while working with limited resources to feed and shelter them. Hughes’ intention is to illustrate the limited resources mothers have when finding childcare and how important it is for mothers to consider the stability and responsibility of their boyfriends when employing them as babysitters; however, Hughes’ advice and observations expose a wide view of challenges facing many women: limited choices.
The limited choices women face when finding work and finding childcare leak into their choices for food options. Low-income women who purchase food aren’t necessarily choosing macaroni and cheese over apples and carrots. Macaroni and cheese in a box is cheap, fast, and palatable, and it won’t go bad in a week if late nights beg for different dinner-time scenarios during the week. Perhaps these limited choices expose the correlation between income, gender, age and obesity, as observed by the Food Action Research Center.