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Amanda Richins 1

Amanda Richins
Marsha Maxwell
Writing 2010
November 18, 2014

Baby Fat in America

When it comes to weight, us Americans are very quick to judge, especially
when it comes to youth. Its almost weekly that we hear on the news of bullying in
schools because of appearance and weight. The sad part about it; many of these
children struggling with their weight dont have much of a choice. Obesity is an
epidemic that has captured one in every five of our youth in the United States. Many
believe that food is the only influence on the rising rates of obesity but there is much
more too it. It is whats causing consumers to eat what they do that is skyrocketing
obesity rates. Some of the biggest influences on obesity today are social status,
ethnicity, and the design of lower income neighborhoods. Whether or not federal
food assistance programs are hurting or helping is up to debate as well. As much as
we hate to admit it, it does have something to do with who you are. Instead of
pointing the finger straight to sugar and trans fats, lets look at why consumers are
putting their fingers on sugar and trans fats.

What is obesity?
Before going into what is causing obesity, first we must know what obesity really is.

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Jean Cowie, a lecturer at the Robert Gordon University School of Nursing and
Midwifery, states, Essentially, obesity is caused by an imbalance in equilibrium
between energy intake and energy expenditure along with an accumulation of
adiposity, or body fatness, that presents a risk to health (3). As of 2013, one in
every three adults was clinically obese along with one in every five children. An
adult with a BMI, or Body Mass Index, of 30 or higher is considered obese. With
children it becomes a little trickier because of the rate that they are growing in their
younger years. Furthermore, a child is considered obese if they have a BMI in the
95th percentile according to their age and sex. Those who are obese as kids have a
greater likelihood of become an obese adult. It was found and written by Hedwig
Lee, Individuals who were poor prior to 2 years of age were 2.30 times more likely
to become obese by about 15.5 years of age (3). To top it all off, obesity can be a
precursor for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even some cancers.

Socioeconomic Disadvantages
Preventing childhood obesity would be the most logical explanation to stop
the rising rates, right? Well its not quite that easy when many families cant provide
the nutrition needed to do so. Money affects our lives in many ways, including our
weight. Families are purchasing foods that within their budgets, which normally
consist of high fat and convenient foods. Adam Drewnowski works for the Center of
Public Health Nutrition at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the
University of Washington. He found a relation between fattening foods and
socioeconomics and said, The low cost and high palatability of energy-dense foods

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mainly sugars and fats along with the easy access to such foods can help explain
why the highest obesity rates are found among the most disadvantaged groups (2).
According to the Census Bureau Statistics, the percentage of American Children
under the age of 18 living in poverty was 21.8% in 2012 as well as 25.1% of children
under the age of 5 (Strauss, 1). These statistics are rising every year. Its pretty
simple, healthy, organic, and fresh foods cost more than unhealthy and processed
foods. High fat or energy dense foods are created with processed ingredients such
as high fructose corn syrup, flour, and sugar. All of these ingredients are produced in
bulk, which results in them being less expensive. Ingredients like these also
contribute to the shelf life of the products. Having a longer shelf life in foods aids in
them being more cost efficient for the producer. The actual numbers on this is quite
shocking, The energy cost of fresh produce was 10 times as much as that of
vegetable oils and sugars. As indicated by the logarithmic scale, the difference in
energy costs between the healthy and unhealthy foods was several thousand
percent (Drewnowski, 2). Just as producers look to being cost efficient, the parents
of these children are also doing the same. This is shown in the foods that are being
What are the actual costs of basic foods in the United States? The Bureau of
Labor Statistics gave the averages of a couple of these foods for the month of
September in 2014 in the United States. Ground beef retailed for $4.20 per pound,
eggs were $1.97 for a dozen, milk was $3.73 per gallon, tomatoes cost $1.55 per
pound, and oranges averaged $1.49 per pound. To a lot of Americans, these prices
are quite high and make it difficult to feed a family on a limited budget. These

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consumers lean more towards the $0.50 Top Ramen packets and $1.00 Mac N
Cheese boxes. To them, these purchases much more convenient. They are less
expensive and provide a whole meal. This may be true, but it is also true that these
foods are packed with sugar and sodium. Even though healthier foods are more
expensive, there are other options for consumers that can save money and still eat
items that have a good nutritional value. Some of these options could be chicken,
which retails for an average of $1.54 per pound, bananas that go for $0.61 a pound
or potatoes that can cost as low as $0.30 a piece. Some tips that consumers need to
remember are; buy food that is in season (it will be a little cheaper), buy in bulk
when possible, try out frozen fruits or vegetables, and dont forget about coupons. It
may take a little more time and effort but eating healthy on a small budget is

Set-up of Neighborhoods
When you drive around areas like the poor neighborhoods of New York,
Detroit, or Los Angeles, its close to impossible to spot a Harmons or Smiths. On the
other side, there are little convenience stores on almost every single corner. There is
a reason for this. Why put grocery stores with fresh produce in areas where it isnt
going to, or cannot be bought? Drewnowski pointed out that, At the environmental
level, obesity rates are higher in lower- income neighborhoods, legislative districts,
and states (2). These low-income neighborhoods attract all the fast food
restaurants like McDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King as apposed to places like
Rumbi Grill and Noodles & Company. These types of restaurants along with full

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grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables are in neighborhoods where the
consumers are more educated on nutrition and can afford to purchase these types of
food. A study conducted in 2001 showed that there were 155 fast food restaurants
in the city of New Orleans alone (Block, Scribner, DeSalvo, 2). New Orleans is made
up of many low-income families with these families being predominantly African
American. When you walk into your local gas station its easy to spot items like
unhealthy nachos with all the delicious processed cheese for lunch, sprinkled
doughnuts for breakfast, candy, and bottles and bottles of soda for snacks. All of
these items are high calories but low cost. To most, this would be a great convenient
way satisfy hunger, but those who are more educated on the health issues involved
with these types of foods know its not the correct way. The National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey showed that the percentage of youth from the ages of
2-19 that suffered from obesity jumped from 15.3% in 1988-1994 to 21.1% in 20052008 when the male head of household did not receive a high school diploma
(Ogden, Lamb, Carroll, Flegal, 5). Unfortunately, the children in low income
neighborhoods dont have as much knowledge on this subject and the vending
machines at their schools arent helping too much either. Children tend to take
whatever is available to them. When education, support and healthy foods are not
provided, obesity can arise.

Living in these lower income neighborhoods are children of all different
ethnicities, some more than others. The poverty level of every race is different as is

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the level of obesity. A great example the effect of ethnicity on obesity comes with
African American children. Worldwide, African American children are leaner.
Generally, black children, especially African black children, carry less body fat than
Caucasian children; Hispanic, Asian and Chinese children generally have a higher
percentage of body fat (Cowie, 4). However, the National Health and Nutritional
Examination Survey, conducted from 2001 to 2010 with almost 20,000 2-18 year
old participants, gave us some interesting results. We would expect that the
percentage of children obese that are Hispanic would be the highest, and it is
coming in at 21.1%. But the part that is shocking to most be that 20.8% of African
American children were obese while, still a large percentage, only 14.8% of
Caucasian children. This goes to show that even though certain ethnicities are
biologically prone to have less body fat, economics and social status does play a
major role in obesity. Those percentages are the way they are because of the large
rates of African American and other minority families that are living in poverty.
These statistics and the study showing 155 fast food restaurants in the city of New
Orleans alone brings these causes of obesity full circle. Genetics can only do so
much. One of the cities with the highest population of Hispanic residents is Los
Angeles, California. In this city 18% of the Hispanic children are obese (Wright, 1). If
every city in the United States had numbers this high, obesity rates would seem
almost uncontrollable.

Federal Food Assistance Programs

Helping or hurting?

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As we can see, children living in poverty are experiencing obesity at a higher

rate. Something we tend to look past that could either be contributing or aiding to
the obesity epidemic is federal food assistance programs. At the beginning, these
types of programs were put in place to alleviate hunger, not necessarily prevent
obesity. On these programs alone, the federal government is spending an annual
amount of fifty three billion dollars. The big question is: are they spending that
money wisely? WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Children, and
Infants) is a program where vouchers for food are provided to pregnant women and
children up to the age who are susceptible to poor nutrition. SNAP (Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program), which was once known as the Food Stamp Program,
is a program that gives families who have an income below 130 percent of the
federal poverty level an electronic card that can be used to purchase any food
involved in the program (Kimbro, Rigby, 2). It was stated by Rachel Kimbro (an
assistant professor in sociology at Rice University) and Elizabeth Rigby (an assistant
professor in political science at the University of Houston) that one-half of all U.S.
children will participate at some point in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program alone, including 90 per- cent of African American children (3). A child may
receive snacks from the Child and Adult Care Food Program if they are in a day care
and once they reach an age as to where they can attend school, they may participate
in the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program. SNAP gives
families the option to make their own food choices. For these families that are
struggling to get by, it is easier for them to use the limited amount of money that

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they do have on lower costing, high fat foods. These foods will last longer and they
are able to buy more. But this all depends on the food prices. In the Fragile Families
and Child Wellbeing Survey it was shown that food assistance may contribute to
the childhood obesity problem in cities with high food prices but may serve to
protect children from excessive weight gain in cities with low food prices (Kimbro,
Rigby, 7). Those in favor of federal food assistance programs would argue that these
government programs are working to be a solution to early childhood obesity.
There are mixed findings on this topic; some show that school meals are improving
childrens nutrition because those meals have to adhere to specific nutritional
requirements while other findings result in the exact opposite. The government has
the power to make a difference in childrens lives. Now is the time for that difference
to start happening.
In the perfect world, children of every race and economical standing would
have the same opportunities, a loving family, obtain a great education, and live in a
community that fully supported them. Unfortunately, we dont live in this perfect
world. Instead, many of our youth are too worried about what their next meal is
going to be or where they are going to get it. It was stated by Adam Drewnowski
that, At the individual level, obesity rates are linked to low income, low education,
minority status, and a higher incidence of poverty. (2) Social status and ethnicity
are playing a larger role in obesity than we may have ever thought possible. Unless
this issue is addressed soon, the high rates of obesity are going to keep going on
their upward climb. Robert Atkins simply said, The people in power have created
an obesity epidemic. Many children these days are not expected to outlive their

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own parents. This is something that should not be acceptable and its up to us to first
make a change in our homes and then make those in power acknowledge and
correct the situation.

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Works Cited
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Drewnowski, Adam. Obesity, Diets, and Social Inequalities. Nutrition Reviews 67 (2009): S36
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