How Do Diets Differ Between Social Classes in America?

Edited and published by Wellness Monster Mark

Diets differ between different social classes in America.

Lack of food is a problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said seventeen percent of Americans or more than fifty million people run out of money to buy food. The worst cases are single mothers in the South or big cities. Being hefty used to be a sign of being rich. Now, it affects people in poverty. As the income gap has increased, obesity has increased for the poor. Genetics, environment, and activity level contribute to obesity, but a 2008 study by the UDSA found that people on food stamps were more likely to be obese. Countries that have the largest income gaps have higher rates of obesity. America has high obesity rates while Japan, with a lower income gap, have lower obesity rates.

Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, has made of career of proving America’s food choices are linked to social class. He maintained that poor Americans can’t afford a nutritious diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, and grains, and nutritionists should think about the affordability of good food. Poor people pick sugary food because of its affordability and taste. Drewnowki proved in a paper how prices increased in Seattle grocery stores with nutritious food increasing twenty-nine percent and the least nutritious food increasing just sixteen percent.

money-for-foodStudies about socioeconomic classes(SES) and obesity go back to the 1960’s. Socioeconomic status means education and income. One of the first to find the link between SES and weight was Albert Stunkard. A survey involving 1,900 people from Manhattan found a connection between social class(based on the father’s job) and obesity. Poor women were seven times more likely to be obese. Wealthy women have more time for exercise, access to better food, and more knowledge about nutrition.

People with lower social status may have bad feelings about themselves such as a loss of power and pride which increases their appetites.

Better educations and higher incomes means better diets. More education means fruit and vegetable intake and Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, and calcium. Better income means more grams of food, calories, calcium and Vitamin A intake, vegetables, and less energy density and grams of carbohydrates. Higher quality food like whole grains, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy items, fruit, and vegetables are more expensive. In 2003, higher income households spent $2, 737 per person for food(6.6% of the income) while lower income households spent $1769 per person(33.7% of the income). Poor people have to spend more of their money on food.

When food is more expensive, the poor eat fewer fruits and vegetables and eat lower quality and high energy dense foods that are processed that are high in starches, added sugars, and added fats. Richer neighborhoods usually have full service supermarkets and grocery stores which gives resident better access to healthy food. These stores may cause more consumption of fruits and vegetables and healthier diets.

Rich parents can afford to waste food to get their children to try different things. Poor parents can’t afford to waste food and will buy less-nutritious food children will like. Caitlyn Daniel, a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard, published a study confirming this. She interviewed seventy-five Boston area parents from different economic backgrounds. A lower-income mother said it’s a waste to buy things her child doesn’t like. Poor parents wanted “real” food but go for tasty Hot Pockets or frozen burritos. Richer parents worried more about throwing food out than the cost of it.

education-and-foodThe more educated who are usually wealthier are more likely to choose a wider variety of food such as sushi and prosciutto. However, Mexican food such as tacos appealed to everyone. Eighty percent of shoppers at Whole Foods, an upscale grocery chain, are college graduates.

Forty percent of children in the lower middle class are food insecure, obese, or both. Food insecurity in homes with children happens in every state. Over one in five children experience food insecurity in thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Food Stamp Program gives food assistance to the poor and lower middle class. Politicians have wanted to prevent those on food stamps from buying unhealthy food and drink. One proposal included fining people on food stamps if they bought unhealthy food and drink. Opponents asserted that poor people used sugary drinks for calories and used the drinks as meals.

A study at Cornell University surveyed twenty-five working mothers and fathers in low-to-moderate income areas. It showed they ate unhealthy because of work. They found out what parents did when they couldn’t sit down to eat a home-cooked meal with their families at home. That included skipping meals, eating at work, eating in the car, ordering take-out on the way home from work, picking easy meals to serve, or overeating after missing a meal. Fathers skipped family meals, ate at work, or served their families take-out meals. Mothers skipped breakfast and served restaurant or prepared food instead of cooking. Working long hours or shifts made the parents eat unhealthy.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, richer families are changing their diets faster than poorer ones. Poor people’s bad diets decreased from sixty-eight percent in 2003 and 2004 to sixty-one percent in 2011 and 2012. Richer people’s bad diets decreased from fifty percent to thirty-six percent during the same time period. Bad diets were from guidelines used by the American Heart Association.

Poor Americans’ consumption of sugary drinks decreased twenty-three percent between 1999 and 2012. Rich people’s consumption of sugary drinks decreased thirty-nine percent.

Richer people are eating very well, exchanging fruit juice for whole fruits, eating whole grains instead of refined grains(white bread and cornflakes), and more nut consumption(peanut butter and raw almonds). Almost twice as many poor people have bad diets compared to richer people. Also, junk food and fast food are marketed more to poorer people.

Rich and poor diets can even affect babies. Researchers from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biometric Sciences found diets with more sugar and fat were linked to less educated mothers and poorer homes. The study looked at more than 1,500 babies until age one. They found lower socioeconomic classes were linked to unhealthy infant diets. Babies were fed candy, ice cream, soda, and French fries. Bad infant diets led to early weight gain and stunted growth. The weight gain was because of fat, sugar, and dairy foods. These eating habits can last a lifetime.

People with less education may not understand how to feed infants and nutrition. The cost of food may be a factor. Poorer people may feed babies food higher in sugar and fat because they are cheaper.

ordering-food-onlineThe Internet has influenced what the middle and upper class eat. There are three food ideologies: the whole foods diet, the locavore diet, and the fine dining specialty ingredients diet. The whole foods diet helps to improve health with the consumption of wholesome food instead of food with factory chemicals. The locavore diet focuses on helping the environment as well as good nutrition. The fine dining specialty ingredients diet is about maintaining a rich lifestyle. The Internet promotes the locavore diet by encouraging farm-to-table delivery websites and organic food. Those who like fine dining can find sites where recipes are shared and rated, and they can find supermarkets with multicultural food choices. These people have the leisure to take pictures of food with their phones to put on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and use review sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon. The Amazon/Whole Foods merger is good for richer foodies. Whole Food appeal to those on the whole foods diet. The locavores like it because they have locally-grown produce. The fine diners can find unique offerings in Whole Foods. Whole Foods is jokingly called “whole paycheck” because it is expensive.

Amazon has introduced online grocery shopping. This offers affluent customers a variety of options such as recommendations based on shopping history. They can see what others like them are eating.

Food prices can be a barrier to those with less money. Those who have more money have more food choices and more online options. Those who are more educated and affluent are usually more educated about nutrition. Those with leisure time and extra money can see food as a luxury while those who are busy with less money see food as a necessity.


A Dozen Facts about America’s Struggling Lower-Middle-Class,8599,1921349,00.html

The growing diet divide between rich and poor in America

Eat the Rich: What Amazon and Whole Foods Tell Us about Internet-Era Eating

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