FreeColorado.com, a journal of politics and culture.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Link Between Poverty and Poor Diet

The Denver Post is quite right to claim, "It's no coincidence that some of the heaviest people typically have the worst diets — sugary soda for breakfast, fast food and convenience store cuisine."

The problem is that the Post wants to put federal bureaucrats in charge of nutrition. But the federal government has been a big part of the problem by pushing out voluntary food banks in favor of tax-funded food stamps. The proper solution is to reverse course, not bureaucratize health.

The Post points out, "Obese people frequently develop chronic ailments that all of us end up paying for, either through increased health care premiums or through tax dollars for government-subsidized health care." Again these are problems caused by politicians. The reason that insurance rates go up is that in many cases politicians force the healthy to subsidize the careless via mandated coverage. And obviously "government-subsidized health care" is a politically-generated problem.

Unsurprisingly, "Low-income people have the highest rates of obesity and are more likely to have a poor diet and suffer from inadequate exercise."

This begins to uproot the problem. The problem is not that poverty causes poor health, at least not in this country, at least not usually. The problem is that irresponsible choices cause both poverty and poor health. Obviously there are many exceptions, but that's the general trend.

The Post makes two implausible claims: "Highly processed, nutritionally bereft food typically is cheaper than fresh foods. Furthermore, some urban areas don't have full-service supermarkets, leaving those without transportation unable to buy healthy food."

On the second point, perhaps the Post would care to point out a single neighborhood in the entire Denver Metro area that lacks easy access to a "full-service supermarket." Those who do live relatively far from a market most often have bus access or carpooling friends. The fundamental problem is not lack of access to good food, but lack of will to eat it.

And it is not generally true that "highly processed" food is cheaper that "fresh foods." Sure, if we're talking about bags of flour and white rice, those are cheap. But earlier the Post said the problem was soda and fast food. I would add to the list processed cereals and snacks. It would be interesting to see the ratio of food stamps spent on pricey junk rather than healthy food.

Right now I have a cupboard full of squash that I purchased at a regular grocery store on a regular sale at 50 cents per pound. I just purchased a luscious head of green lettuce for 88 cents, also on regular sale. Turkeys have been on sale for less than a dollar per pound. The regular price of whole chickens is 99 cents per pound. I regularly pay two dollars per gallon of marked-down organic milk, and the regular price for the low-end brand is $2.49.

The problem is not that healthy food costs more than junk food; typically junk food costs more. The problem is that many poor people choose to buy the more-expensive junk food, and the federal government helps them do it with our tax dollars.

But apparently the Denver Post's answer to junk food is junk journalism.

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