Although food is a necessary component of life, each individual’s relationship with food varies — some positive, some negative. Low-income individuals are at a disadvantage when it comes to developing and sustaining healthy eating habits, and we should keep this in mind when discussing weight and nutrition management.
A recent study has found that food deserts — areas with limited access to grocery stores — are no longer widely believed to be the strongest indicator for obesity.
The study shows income level has a greater influence on obesity rates than access to healthy food. Another study found the symbolic value of food to have a significant impact on how it is viewed among various communities.
The socioeconomic status of the individuals drastically influenced their meaning of food. The study found that parents in low-income families utilized “junk food” as a means to prevent deprivation with their children.
Often, these parents gave into their children’s requests for “junk food” in order to nourish them emotionally. As a result, obesity rates among children in low-income households are higher than those of their counterparts.
Within this family structure, the request for food by the children was interpreted differently among poor and wealthy families.
While affluent families viewed the requests as unnecessary, the poor families viewed them as necessary to the children. They felt inadequate if they didn’t honor their children’s requests.
Wealthy parents can almost always give their children what they request. Therefore, it is easier to turn down unhealthy food. Low-income parents don’t have the same luxury.
In fact, the ability of these parents to fulfill their children’s requests for junk food validates and makes them feel like competent parents.
The financial aspect also plays an important role in the relationship with food. Fast food and junk food are often more affordable than healthier food options.
Many low-income individuals aren’t fortunate enough to have the time or resources to cook and prepare healthy meals in advance.
The medical aspects of dietary control also contribute to the increased rate of obesity among low-income communities. Many health problems associated with obesity can decrease the quality of life of those affected — which can further contribute to the emotional need for unhealthy food.
Additionally, dependence on food pantries can cause healthy eating to be exceedingly more difficult. Several studies suggest these individuals do not receive the proper amount of nutrients required for a healthy diet.
It is important to keep these factors in mind before judging someone for their appearance or eating habits. Each individual’s relationship with food is unique. We should approach others with compassion rather than judgement — especially those who cannot afford or struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle.