Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Obesity Linked to Zip Code

Pale skin once signaled wealth. It implied that person didn't work long hours outside engaged in manual labor. While that may still be true in some parts of the world, in the United States tanned skin has come to signal what pale skin once did. A person with tanned skin signals they have the wealth and leisure to travel to sunnier locales, especially during winter.

Weight and wealth go hand in hand too.

But whereas in other parts of the world poverty is associated with an emaciated physique, in the United States it's the opposite. Poor people are fat. That's not just a gut instinct captured for political commentary in a cartoon like the one above - it's born out in the data.

A new study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that where one lives is a better predictor of obesity than income or education. The study used telephone interviews of 8,000 people living in the Seattle metro area. "Obesity rates reached 30 percent in the most deprived areas but were only around 5 percent in the most affluent ZIP codes" according the press release of the study.

Why is obesity related to poverty? The author of the press release implies it might be linked to access to healthy foods or opportunities for exercise; i.e. impoverished neighborhoods don't have a Whole Foods down on the corner or tennis courts, walking trails, or pools. Maybe that's part of the problem. Dependence on fast foods, prepared packaged processed foods and soda pop might be another BIG culprit. Apparently the vast majority of people who drink soda drink the fully leaded kind, and with an average of 2 a day, the calories can add up fast. Perhaps soda is the problem. It certainly costs a lot less than milk. Perhaps people working multiple low paying jobs don't have the time to prepare food at home and instead fall back on what's easy and cheap.

What do you think - - Why is obesity linked to property value?


ScienceWoman said...

There's been a lot of interesting work on food deserts. Here's one link: http://www.fooddeserts.org/
Basically, the idea is that in poor urban areas, there are no grocery stores (not just whole foods, but even safeway). So for those without easy transportation, the only food options are fast food and the type of food sold in 7-11s. There's more to it than that, too. Sure, they're drinking soda, but why?

psychgrad said...

Where someone lives may be a better predictor of obesity than income and education, but those three variables would be highly correlated. I agree that it's an accessibility issue but perhaps a time/stress issue as well. With financial concerns and perhaps the need to work long hours, parents likely have less time, perhaps various social problems (alcohol, drugs, etc.), and less social support. All of these factors would contribute to poorer meal planning/health education/etc.

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Rose Connors said...

I think many high-calorie food choices are cheaper than healthier choices. Carbs are particularly inexpensive and have a tendency to stick to the waistline. Perhaps many of those in low economic areas are also unemployed. I certainly eat more when I'm bored. I also wouldn't be surprised to find a trend in the sub-culture toward foods with higher calories and lower nutritional value.

Field Notes said...

In the same journal there are two other relevant articles, I think. One is about the connection between children's TV watching and SES (represented by family income, not property value). The other is about the effect of children's TV viewing on junk food consumption. Higher income is associated with less TV viewing among females and for both girls and boys, more TV watching is associated with more positive attitudes about junk food and also more consumption of it.

Those pieces suggest to me that part of America's obesity problem is that perhaps poor children are watching too many TV commercials for McD's and high calorie snack foods.

I'm also reminded of the study that found kids prefer eating carrots that come in a McD's package to those that come in a nameless package.

How's that for the power of mass marketing?

SquirrelGurl said...

In the book Fast Food Nation, there is a memo from the McD's marketing dept outling how they should begin marketing to children at age 2 b/c they are beginning to form lifetime habits. In the movie Supersize Me- kids could more readily recognize Ronald McDonald than any other character or other person such as the president. That's some serious marketing.

Field Notes said...

I'm totally unsurprised to hear about the marketing tactics of junk food manufacturers.

It still remains to be answered why obesity is concentrated more among those without the social capital to buy into nicer real estate.

I really like Gorillaboys suggestion that they might also lack access to preventive health care.

A doctor's advice to lose weight may be just the impetus for changing habits that lead to obesity.