Obesity rates not about indulgence, but access

On Wednesday, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released findings that,

Low-income teenagers are nearly three times more likely to be obese than teens from more affluent households

The policy brief’s authors cited environmental barriers to health, including high numbers of neighborhood fast food restaurants and low numbers of parks and other opportunities for physical activity.

“Our neighborhoods are literally making us fat,” says one of the policy brief’s authors Susan H. Babey, PhD. “We need better strategies and more thoughtful urban planning if we are going to make our towns and cities livable, not just places where we live.”

As unfortunate as this news may be, it’s not surprising considering decades of supermarket a redlining, and federal corn subsidies that make soda and Cheetos cheaper than fresh, healthy foods.  What did surprise me, is how a news reporter on KPCC covered the story in a news brief that afternoon. 

I’m paraphrasing slightly here, but I am certain about one word in particular, “indulge.”  The reporter said higher obesity rates in low-income teenagers could be attributed to the fact that they “indulge in more fast food and television watching” than their more affluent counterparts.

Maybe for affluent people fast food and television are viewed as indulgences, as treats to be added to otherwise healthier diets and lifestyles.  But the elitist suggestion that low-income people have higher rates of obesity because they are indulgent is like saying that people who are being laid off in this spiraling economy are making less money because they are indulging in time off.  The word indulgence implies a level of choice that too many Angelenos don’t have–as evidenced by the UCLA brief findings that KPCC was supposedly reporting on.

The good news, is that that very same morning, dozens of members of the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores piled in to a City of LA HCED meeting to talk about the need for a policy approach to eliminating food deserts and upholding labor and environmental standards in the grocery industry.  The meeting ended mid-way through the presentation, but not before Reyes and other council members made a statement that ameliorating supermarket disparities would be an important agenda item for City Council in the new year.

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Posted in Grocery Accountability Project
One comment on “Obesity rates not about indulgence, but access
  1. jgogek says:

    Obesity is a societal problem, not an individual problem, so the answer is policy and practice change that will impact the policy. I’ve read a lot recently about the obesity gene, but I don’t see how this discovery can help solve the population-level problem.

    Check out “America’s obesity problem: The rugged individualist weighs 350 pounds” at http://jgogek.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/americas-obesity-problem-the-rugged-individualist-weighs-350-pounds/

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