Economic Forces Driving Obesity

June 1, 2019

Low-income groups are rapidly becoming more at risk for developing serious health conditions due to obesity, caused by a lack of access to natural, healthy foods. Current economic policies and subsidies are making this possible. President Lincoln used the war powers of the presidency to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, to declare “all persons held as slaves… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Why is it that the very population of Americans freed by President Lincoln, is the same population to suffer the worst under a system of new economic slavery?

The Federal government spends more than $20 billion a year on subsidies for farm businesses, with the majority going to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice. This federally subsidized production reduces manufacturing costs for processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Consumers on food stamps get about 12 percent of their daily calories from sugary drinks, compared to six percent of higher-income people.

Low-income neighborhoods frequently lack full-service grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and many of the stores that are available preferentially stock heavily processed foods that are shelf-stable and less likely to spoil. Additionally, low-income communities have greater availability of fast-food restaurants, especially near schools. Due to safety concerns and the potential for violence, children and adults are more likely to stay indoors and engage in sedentary activities, further increasing the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

By 2035, less than 16 years from now, data suggest that nearly 100% of the African American female population will be overweight or obese. This change will shorten lives, worsening disability, reduce lifetime economic earning, reduce academic performance, and increase rates of incarceration.

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