Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Too Poor to be Thin? CTD

Earlier this week I posted why I disagreed with a new study stating that it was too expensive for the poor to eat better quality foods.

Well, I'm not alone.  I saw this post on the Huffington Post and thought it was worth noting. 

Like me, the author blasts the "too poor to be thin" meme as nothing but an urban myth, saying:
Like everyone else, I had heard innumerable times that "more nutritious food costs more," but was never very impressed with the data given to support the claim. So my colleagues and I generated some. We designed a simple experiment: we gave a volunteer shopper criteria for more and less nutritious foods, and had her pick examples of both from multiple food categories. We paid the grocery bill, so she didn't need to worry about prices. We then compared the cost of more and less nutritious foods, category by category, from soup to nuts (well, soda to snacks, anyway). We found no difference. In almost every aisle of almost every supermarket, it's possible to trade up nutrition substantially without spending more money.
So why don't people routinely do so? Cluelessness. I don't mean that as an insult -- I mean literal lack of the clues required to identify the more nutritious foods that don't cost more!
He also brings up the health care cost issue as I did:
Next, there's tunnel vision. We think of the costs of food as if money spent on food has no impact on any other money we spend or make. This is certifiable nonsense. The personal costs of eating badly are enormous: ill health, obesity, high medical bills, absenteeism, presenteeism, lower income. Economists routinely think in terms of "externalities" -- the costs or savings associated with a choice that don't show up on the price tag per se. When thinking about the true costs of our food choices, we would be well advised to do likewise. Eating well is an investment in health, and health provides rich returns in both human potential and dollars.
Finally, he brings up what I always say, the focus is too much on quantity of food, not quality. After all, isn't it patently obvious that someone weighing 300 pounds is just eating way too much? Here's what he says:
Lastly, there is a cultural anachronism. Think, for a minute, about how you measure food value. If you are like most people, it's simple: more is better. The all-you-can-eat-buffet exemplifies this attitude, as does "super-sizing."

But is more really better? In an age of epidemic obesity, does more food -- and more calories -- per dollar spent really constitute a bargain? Is it ever a bargain to get more of what you already have too much of?

Throughout most of human history, calories were relatively scarce and hard to get, and physical activity was unavoidable. It was in this context that more food, more calories per unit "expense" (dollars, effort, risk etc.) became the prevailing measure of food value.

But we now live in a modern world where physical activity is scarce and calories are unavoidable. Being poor actually increases the risk of obesity! Increasing our chances of getting fat and sick at no extra charge doesn't exactly sound like a bargain. Getting more food at low cost and then spending a fortune to lose the weight we gained for free does not redound to the credit of our bank account, or common sense. Calories per dollar as a measure of food value is a cultural anachronism. It's long past time to think of nutrition per dollar -- or vitality conferred per dollar -- as a new-age measure of the value of food. On such a scale, even fresh produce is far more economical than we tend to think.
I like this guy's thinking. Like me, he doesn't give in to the meme, he challenges it. To say the poor have no choice, is to give them no hope, and when you have no hope, you don't try.

I say, that no matter what the budget, it is possible to eat healthy and be thin. As the author of this blog acknowledges, but doesn't state clearly, it's just a matter of learning HOW to do so.

Also, like me, he argues that one of the primary problems is not WHAT the poor eat but HOW MUCH they eat. We are now living in an age of cheap food, and cheap calories, but the "more is better food-wise" still holds a lot of sway. The more food and calories a dollar buys is primary, and more important than the inherent nutritional quality of the food.

Instead of "more is better" the poor should be taught that their their food dollars are best spent on better quality, not better quantity.


  1. Excellent article! Anyone who isn't on board with this line of thinking is lacking good judgement and very possibly just choosing ignorance in the same way they prefer to choose empty calories...

  2. I understand what your saying, but it's important to be careful about drawing conclusions without looking at the data yourself.

    It's an undeniable fact that people from poor families are statistically fatter than those coming form higher income families. The reason is that food choices are limited to the cheaper stuff that adds lots of calories and little nutrition: like hamburger helper, McDonald's value meals, cup o noodles, and the cheaper breads that can only be made to taste good by loading it with high fructose corn syrup (which is cheap because it is government subsidized).

    A bread that has to add sugar to taste good? What are they putting in that stuff that it tastes so bad in the first place? Usually the answer is the leftover crud that is less than fresh. But we're used to it, so we don't notice it anymore.

    And the point of this research isn't to make poor people feel bad or like they have no hope. It's to facilitate change in what we accept as normal behavior and accepted business practice. It's to help change what emergency food distribution sites consider okay to feed to homeless mothers.

    Because as much as we all hate to admit it, this type of food is addictive. Which means people who have to eat it are only going to want to eat more of it.

    I know a lot of people will take issue with that because a lot of the food industry is spending so much money to make it seem like it's some controversy.

    But protect yourself. Protect your families. These companies make millions from the ignorance of the consumer, ignorance they pay good money to keep alive.(Have you seen that high fructose corn syrup ad about how sugar is just sugar? That ad calculatedly ignores the real issue everyone is concerned about: it's not that sugar is necessarily bad for you or that high fructose corn syrup is worse than cane sugar. The problem is that high fructose corn syrup is in EVERYTHING. It's in foods that it has no business being in. We can't get away from it. So the amounts pile up to where it's impossible to have it in moderation,and soon we're having it with every meal in astronomical amounts.

    Look at the data yourself before you make a decision. You might be surprised what you learn. And your family and your healthy children will thank you.

    It's great to believe that people can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and many do. I came from a poor family myself that could sometimes only afford those little 20cent burritos from the freezer section. Today, I'm a first generation college student (with resulting obesity and health issues I'm trying to unlearn).

    But on the other hand, many people are forced to make those choiceless choices that average income families just don't understand.

    Try to have some compassion. This is a very real problem for very real people.

    I'm going to write a follow up post on this at my blog This is a topic that is very important to me, so I hope you'll forgive the long post. If you're interested, come check it out.

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