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The connection between income and obesity has become more apparent in recent years. Research has shown that people who are living in poverty or are considered to have lower incomes are significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index, be overweight, or be obese than those who earn a higher income. 

Understanding the connection between obesity and income is an important step in better addressing the needs of patients in many vulnerable populations. Let’s discuss the connection between obesity and income and what it means to patients.

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What is Obesity?

Obesity is a medical condition where an individual has an amount of body fat that is considered excessive. When someone exceeds a body mass index of 30, they are considered to be obese and once they hit a body mass index of 40, they are considered to have class III obesity, formerly called morbid obesity.

Both of these are complex and chronic conditions that can severely affect health and lead to serious issues if left untreated, such as stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. Several factors can cause obesity, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle.

Genetics can play a role in how much food an individual can eat, the size of their appetite, how much energy their body stores from the food, and the efficiency that it uses that stored energy. A person’s metabolic rate can be slowed down by genetics which can cause a person to be particularly sensitive to weight gain from caloric consumption. 

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A person’s environment can also have a significant impact on obesity. If their neighborhood lacks access to healthy food options and lacks safe sidewalks or bike paths, this can lead to unhealthy eating habits coupled with a sedentary lifestyle which can quickly lead to weight gain and eventual obesity.

Another environmental factor that often gets overlooked is an individual’s social environment. When someone is surrounded by family and peers that are also obese, they are much more likely to become obese as well. Also, when family and peers engage in behaviors such as being sedentary and eating calorie-dense foods that lack nutritional value, it normalizes the unhealthy behaviors and makes it much more likely that the individual will engage in similar behavior. 

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a woman in brown eating fast food fries at a park

How Does Income Affect the Risk of Obesity?

Many factors can contribute to the risk of obesity. However, one of the factors that causes a general trend of higher obesity rates is income. Here are the reasons why income is such a significant factor in obesity.

Lack of Access to Healthy Food Options

Income inequality can greatly impact an individual’s ability to access healthy food options and, in turn, lead to obesity. Individuals that are considered to be low-income can find it difficult to purchase healthy and nutritious foods, which can be too expensive for their budget. This can lead to choosing cheaper and more convenient options, such as eating fast food or buying cheaper processed foods over purchasing fresh produce.

These cheaper and more convenient options often are high in fats, sugars, and calories, leading to a diet that can quickly lead to weight gain and eventual obesity. The task of finding healthy food is often more difficult for lower-income families and individuals since they are much more likely to live in communities that are considered food deserts

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Food deserts are communities or neighborhoods that have limited to no convenient options for obtaining healthy and affordable food. These communities usually lack supermarkets and grocery stores and have to depend on fast-food restaurants and convenience stores for overprocessed and unhealthy food.

Related: The Link Between Social Inequalities, COVID-19, and Obesity

an overweight woman on a treadmill

Reduced Access to Parks and Other Recreational Resources

Many communities that deal with income inequality have reduced access to parks and other recreational resources. Without the availability of green places to encourage communities to engage in physical activity such as walking, jogging, running, biking, or participating in sports, it is much too easy for an individual to slip into a sedentary lifestyle, significantly raising their risk for illness and mortality.

Many green spaces also offer community gardens or farmer’s markets, which can offer some healthy food options in the area and give members of the community the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by exercising and buying some fresh and healthy food.

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity occurs when an individual lacks consistent access to enough food to fuel an active and healthy lifestyle. It can be caused by many reasons, including poverty and lack of employment. 

Experiencing food insecurity can be an extremely stressful experience for most individuals. Not knowing where your next meal will come from can be a significant source of stress and release hormones like cortisol in your body that will cause a craving for food that is sweet, fatty, or salty. 

Are you looking for more information on obesity? Check out our catalog of obesity information at our Condition Center!

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Final Thoughts

There is a clear connection between income and obesity; the risk of obesity is higher in those that are considered low-income. This can be attributed to factors such as food insecurity, lack of access to healthy food, and reduced access to parks and other recreational green spaces. 

Without access to the resources needed to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle, individuals are much more likely to struggle with obesity.