There is no questioning the fact that there has been some quantum progressions made as far as informing Americans of the importance of eating healthy. Major organizations such as the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched all-out campaigns to encourage better eating habits. With all that is being done to enhance the health of Americans, there is still a major concern when the issue of healthy eating is examined from a socioeconomic perspective.

There are numerous studies that reveal that socioeconomic factors such as education, income and ethnicity have an immense impact on how healthy eating is perceived and the level of access to healthier alternatives.

There are a number of variables that play a role in the disparity between those who are more affluent and those who live below the poverty line.

Access to Data

One element that carries a great deal of influence on a family’s ability to develop a healthy eating lifestyle is to have appropriate and effective access to information that addresses the issue with real factual data and recommendations. Low-income families don’t necessarily have consistent access to the mediums and platforms that are used to promote healthy living, and even those that do are not likely to examine the data.

What low-income families can expect is to be inundated with TV commercials from fast food restaurants and soft drink commercials. To exacerbate the matter, many companies market directly to kids – promoting unhealthy sugary foods. In a home environment in which the children are less likely to meet any type of resistance from the parents when they seek unhealthy meals, these commercials have a powerful counter-cultural impact as far as developing healthier eating habits are concerned.

Non-overt environmental racism can play a part in limiting  access to fresh and healthy foods as seen above in the impoverished neighborhood of Visitacion Valley, in the otherwise affluent city of San Francisco – Photo shot while driving through the Bayshore Blvd corridor. 

There are advocates that are speaking out and applying pressure on some major players in the fast food industry – such as McDonalds and Burger King – to eliminate advertising that is directly targeted at kids. The concern is that kids are not developmentally sound enough to distinguish the deceptive intent of product marketing and advertising. They are not yet capable of making wise decisions concerning their health. Some of these advocates are even pushing to have McDonalds take down its Happy Meal site off the web. It is lucidly clear that this site is ed to appeal to kids.

The Financial Influence

In addition to restricted access, the financial strain associated with living below the poverty line creates an even greater divide. Parents in these households generally work longer hours, many times on multiple jobs. Having the time to pick up healthy organic food is difficult. The chances of finding a health food or whole foods store in the community are highly unlikely. What they will find in the immediate vicinity is an abundance of fast food restaurants.

There are a number of variables that play a role in the disparity between those who are more affluent and those who live below the poverty line. Bay View Hunters Point, San Francisco, CA corridor corner store.

In most cases, it is less expensive to prepare a healthy meal than it is to buy an unhealthy meal from a fast food restaurant. The problem that exists for those with lower incomes can be summed up in one word – restriction. These families are restricted from access to proper nutritional guides that will provide valuable information that will inform them of the importance of an adequate nutritional guide. This restriction also limits their ability to understand which foods are high in nutrition and which are high in caloric content, but having very little nutritional value.

The restrictions don’t end with access to information, in continues through limited access to healthy food. When a parent has worked a 16-hour day and possibly traveled home on mass transit, the possibility of heading back out to find kale, cruciferous vegetables and lean meats such as fish and poultry, is highly unlikely. When you consider that stores that provide healthy foods will most likely not be in the immediate vicinity, the chances of obtaining these foods are even less likely.

There is no cookie cutter approach to rectifying this issue. It requires a collaborative effort from health organizations to develop community initiatives that emphasize the importance of proper nutrition. It also requires the call for more ethical marketing practices by food companies, especially when it comes to advertisements that are directly targeted toward kids. The disparity between the more affluent and the less fortunate, as far as healthy eating is concerned, can be narrowed if more people become committed to seeing a change. If a change is not realized, America will still continue to experience an overall decline in health.

CLOSED within a 3 year period, the Fresh and Easy Grocery Store, was once a bright spot in the Bay View Hunters Point 3rd Street, San Francisco neighborhood.

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A SOCIOECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE ON HEALTHY EATING by Brenda Rivera-Billings, M.Sc: Principal Health Education Practitioner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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