As Black Unemployment Climbs, Healthy American Eating Declines

Huffington Post: As Black Unemployment Climbs, Healthy American Eating Declines.

Health trends along socioeconomic lines and racial health disparities are old news. As foods become more hazardous to our health, the patterns in racialized outcomes in regards to food-related health are more defined.  This has everything to do with economic opportunities, unemployment, and time. In essence, a social system that punishes your for not being able to afford or have to eat healthier food– though no single institution or actor is behind this effect. So your paycheck shrinks, and you eat more from the dollar menu- it makes sense. I think it still raises some questions, though, for a lot of us who don’t think it’s THAT hard to find decent food and take the time to cook it. Or there’s the idea that if you make less money, you just don’t know about what healthy eating is. Both are important– if you can’t cook you should try; if you don’t know what’s healthy, it’s harder to eat “right.” Still, as Ross explains here, it’s easy to underestimate just how many people are affected by unemployment and what that means for their diets.

Sample the American conversation about food, and poor people are often described as if they are stupid, foolishly opting for unhealthy foods over more wholesome options, while absorbing the attendant health problems associated with obesity, from heart trouble to diabetes. But poor people tend to eat high calorie, salty and sweet foods not out of ignorance, but in an accommodation with economic necessity, say experts.

“Foods with high calories tend to be cheaper,” says Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Obesity Research at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It’s really not irrational that a person with a tiny income is going to be more concerned with feeling full than how many anti-oxidants that they get. If you want to feel full and not go hungry, you would logically focus on foods that give you the most calories per dollar, not nutrients per dollar.”


A quick look at numbers produced by the F as in Fat report, annually tracking trends in obesity over the past 5 or more years. (To note, it’s important to look at obesity as just one outcome of a much more complicated array of health complications that are food related. overweight, diabetes and pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.)

Today, more than two out of three states, 38 total, have obesity rates over 25 percent, and just one has a rate lower than 20 percent. Since 1995, when data was available for every state, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others.

Racial and ethnic minority adults, and those with less education or who make less money, continue to have the highest overall obesity rates:

  • Adult obesity rates for Blacks topped 40 percent in 15 states, 35 percent in 35 states, and 30 percent in 42 states and D.C.
  • Rates of adult obesity among Latinos were above 35 percent in four states (Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas) and at least 30 percent in 23 states.
  • Meanwhile, rates of adult obesity for Whites topped 30 percent in just four states (Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) and no state had a rate higher than 32.1 percent.
  • Nearly 33 percent of adults who did not graduate high school are obese, compared with 21.5 percent of those who graduated from college or technical college.

As obesity grows, conceptions of obese people become more pronounced, too. Commonly, the response to more and more fat people are ideas of their laziness, inability to choose better food, or lack of discipline. The US is extremely demoralizing of fat people. But rich or poor, there’s only so much “behavioral” change that can occur across generations in ten or so years to account for dramatic shifts in health trends of this degree.


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