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Demographics and Poverty

Shunise Bledsoe

April 27, 2011

Introduction: The topic    

Throughout the semester, numerous topics have been. Due to this fact, I found it extremely difficult to choose a topic and a question to pose.  However, regardless of the topics that were covered in class, the demographics of the disorder or problem were always discussed.  The dynamics of human gender, ethnicities, and genetics, as I have learned in this course, have a major impact on disease and the way it is studied.  These categories allow for more organized forms of research and make it so that there are less variable within a study.  Once these divisions are formed it allows for a more stabilized data.

 The most interesting demographics in my opinion are that of poverty and wealth and minorities.  It often amazes me how one’s financial status can affect the likelihood of them getting a disease or developing a disorder.  There seems to be a very high correlation between wealth, minorities and eating disorders.  The opposite of this is also appears to be true, obesity and poverty also seem to have a high correlation.  It would be very difficult to sufficiently cover both of these topics in one paper.

 I have chosen the topic of obesity in relation to minorities and poverty for several reasons.  I come from a relatively poor city and the obesity there is quite obvious.  There also seems to be more literature available on the topic of obesity due to the fact that it is becoming more and more prevalent in the United States as a whole.  The purpose of this paper is to answer the question:  Is there truly a high correspondence between obesity and poverty and minorities? And if so, what steps need to be taken in order to reverse this trend?


Overview: What is obesity and why does it matter?

It is a common mistake to confuse the terms overweight and obese.  To determine whether or not a person is obese, it is necessary to see where they fall on the BM (Body Mass Index) chart.  The levels for BMI are determined by using Mass in Kg/ Height in Meters squared (Wikipedia).  According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, based on the standard BMI to be overweight for an adult means to have a BMI from 25.0 to 29.9 (Heart and Lung).  In order to be considered obese according to the same chart, anything above 30 is classifies as obese.  There are different classes of obesity depending upon how high on the chart a person’s BMI falls

Now that obesity has been defined, what makes it important? Why does it matter?  How come one can’t just live and be obese, and happy? Obesity has tremendous affects on health.  Sadly, obesity affects life expectancy.

“Obesity has more recently been shown to decrease life expectancy by 7 years at the age of 40 years.14 A Peeters, JJ Barendregt, F Willekens, JP Mackenbach, A Al Mamun, L Bonneux and NEDCOM, the Netherlands Epidemiology and Demography Compression of Morbidity Research Group, Obesity in adulthood and its consequences for life expectancy: a life-table analysis, Ann Intern Med 138 (2003), pp. 24–32. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (425)14 The increase in risk of death with each unit increase in BMI declines progressively with age but remains substantial until the age-group of 75 years and older.15 Thus, the UK Government now estimates that a BM'I of 25·0 kg/m2 decreases the life expectancy of English men by 2 years and, given the progressive epidemic of obesity, the effect will increase to 5 years by 2050” (Haslam and James 2005).

This information is even sadder when one considers the fat that obesity is more prevalent in the United States than in other countries at this point in time.  Because weight is gained on the body as whole obesity also makes one more susceptible to developing other disorders or diseases.  For example, one is 5 times more likely to develop hypertension if they are obese.  Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, stroke, respiratory effects, arthritis, are some of the diseases that are found to have co-morbidity with obesity (Haslam and James 2005).  These diseases alone can decrease life expectancy and often hinder other aspects of life.

Poverty and Obesity: Two peas in a pod or two different vegetables?

            The issues of obesity are clearly rising in the United States.  The issue of poverty only makes this worse. There have been several studies to show the correlation of poverty and obesity

 “Significantly more rural women lived in poverty, reported a poorer health status, and had a greater prevalence of obesity. Urban women had the next highest obesity rate and a moderate health status. The healthiest group with the lowest obesity and poverty rates was suburban women. (Ramsey and Glenn 2005) 

As studied in class, a lot of the problem comes from the lack of healthy foods.  In class we covered charts which revealed that access to healthier foods is greatly limited due to the lack of funds to purchase them.  Also in rural areas there are even less grocery stores and places to buy healthy foods.  Junk foods and snacks and fast foods are often cheaper and more readily available.  There are even less health facilities and gyms available than in wealthier areas.

 Poverty levels among minorities are generally higher than Caucasians.  This is due to the fact that generally minorities aren’t as financially stable as the majority. Several studies have data results that make this statement true. 

““There, are notable disparities in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States. Zhang and Wang (2003) found "considerable socioeconomic inequality in obesity among the U.S. population," noting that "minorities are more vulnerable to obesity." Brownell and Horgen (2004) found that "African Americans have greater increases in blood pressure when they gain weight, arid the years, of potential life lost from diabetes is extremely high in African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American populations." According, to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2005), there are twice as many poor and obese adolescents compared with the obesity numbers of more affluent adolescents, Ogden et at. (in Koplan, Liverman, and Kraak 2005) support these findings, concluding that "Hispanic, non-Hispanic black, and Native-American children and adolescents are disproportionately affected when compared to the general population" (Daniels 2007).

 There almost seems to be a completely different mindset among minorities versus that of Caucasians. I have personally seen this in my interactions in culture.  Generally, African-American and Hispanics and other minorities seem to be genetically predisposed to be “thicker” or “heavier” for lack of better terminology.  It has also been in my experience that the focus among these minorities is not centered on thinness or the slim ideal.  Speaking personally I have seen women be told to embrace their curves and shapeliness.  However, this frame of mind can often go a bit too far and cause obesity if people do not pay enough attention to their health. 

Solving the puzzle: How to prevent obesity

In order to change the future of the obesity epidemic, the alterations must be made early.  It is important to start with children.  If nothing is done to stop obesity or prevent it during childhood then and obese child will grow to become an obese adult.

“Brownell and Horgen (2004) warn that "American children may be the first generation in modern history to live shorter lives than their parents."
    According to Tartamella, Herscher, and Woolston (2004), at least 16 percent of children in our schools are seriously overweight and facing health risks related to obesity. They estimate that the number of overweight children from the ages of 6 to 11 has tripled since the mid-1970s and doubled for those aged 12 to 18.
    Unfortunately, children and youths from lower income and minority households are disproportionately affected by this crisis, with "the highest rates of obesity...occurring among, the poorest children" (Tartamella, Herscher, and Woolston 2004). With at least one-fourth of American schoolchildren living at or below the poverty level, principals and teachers can expect to encounter increasingly significant numbers of students who are both poor and overweight in what, has been dubbed the childhood obesity epidemic” (Daniels 2007).

This can be done through education, health centered media (not thin centered).  An obvious way to help is for schools to encourage physical activity and enable children to make healthier choices.  This can be done by several methods: Removing vending machines or adding healthier choices, making sure they are well informed about health topics and weight, have physical education or health courses, and incorporate topics such as obesity in other areas of the classroom.  Also, the media can help as well, by encouraging children to watch less cartoons and television and actually spend time outside.  Some networks are currently trying to enforce such policies and campaigns and more should follow the example and do so as well.    

In a greater spectrum there are other methods to reduce obesity levels. There are several treatment options available. “Broadly, three clinical weight loss options exist for overweight and obese individuals: (a) lifestyle modification (i.e., diet, exercise, and behavior therapy), (b) pharmacotherapy, and (c) bariatric surgery. Which treatment option is appropriate is a function of the patient's weight, health status, previous weight loss attempts, and preferences. ( Fabricatore and Wadden 2006)”

            The majority of sources have the same type of treatment options for obesity. Some options are more extreme than others.  The following list gives good coverage of the ways to stop or prevent obesity: Pharmacological Treatment, Very-Low-Calorie Diet and Protein-Sparing Modified Fast, exercise, behavioral therapy, calorie-restricted diets, and setting treatment goals (Aronne 1998).


            Obesity and poverty do have a high correlation.  However, this does not mean that obesity cannot be prevented or stopped in impoverished areas.  With correct measures the process of reversing the obesity epidemic can begin.  Although, a slow and tedious process, it is possible. In order to preserve life and for humanity to thrive, it is necessary to fight obesity.  One person can’t win the war against obesity it will take the efforts of the nation. 



Aronne J., Louis (1998). Women's Health Issues Part 1: Obesity. Medical Clinics of North America 82 (1), 161-181. Retrieved from Medline database.

Fabricatore N.,  Anthony, Wadden A. Thomas ( 2006). Obesity. Annual Review of Clinical  Psychology, 2, 357-377. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.2.022305.095249.


Ramsey W., Priscilla, Glenn Lee, L. (2002) Obesity and health status in rural, urban, and suburban Southern Women. Southern Medical Journal, 95(7) 666. Retrieved from Gale Cengage Academic One File.


Haslam W., David, James T., Philip (2005). Obesity. The Lancet, (366) 9522, 1197-1209. Description:


Body Mass Index (2011). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 27, 2011 from


Calculate Your Body Mass Index (2001). In National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved April 27, 2011 from

Daniels, D.  Y. (2007). Obesity and Poverty: A Growing Challenge. Principal 8(3), 42-47.  Retrieved form Wilson Web.


BMI Chart source:






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