Socioeconomic Disparity in Healthy Eating

Socioeconomic Disparity in Healthy Eating

The organizational aspect of SEM plays a huge role in socioeconomic disparity in healthy eating.  Fast food and other unhealthy meals generally are very cheap.  In some cases, the $1 menu at McDonalds might be a person’s only option.  In comparison, someone of higher economic status might be more likely to not only eat well, but eat all organic or become a vegan or be gluten free by choice.  The prices of food largely limit the availability of healthy options because people simply cannot afford it.  Another aspect on the organizational level of SEM is food availability.  In college, students eat what the dining hall offers.  It doesn’t matter if it is healthy or not, people will eat it because that is their only option.  On the interpersonal level, people generally follow the same health patterns as their friends and families.  As children, we completely depend on our parents to decide what we will be eating each day.  Because of this, their healthy or unhealthy habits are generally passed down to their kids. Finally, on the intrapersonal level, each individual’s knowledge about food defines how healthy or unhealthy a person is. Someone of lower socioeconomic class might not have the same education and knowledge regarding diet and healthy eating as someone of higher status.  In addition, we are not all chefs, and do not all have the skills to create grand yet healthy meals.


A simple intervention on the interpersonal level is buying a cookbook.  Cookbooks can provide a variety of healthy meals.  They are usually easy to follow and allow others to teach us their cooking skills and ideas.  Regardless of socioeconomic class, anyone can follow a cookbook and make a good, healthy meal.  In doing so, we expand our cooking knowledge.

20 thoughts on “Socioeconomic Disparity in Healthy Eating

  1. I once did a research paper on the obesity epidemic in America, and I, too, found that there was a significant correlation between socioeconomic status and the intake of unhealthy foods. It is truly sad that the most available food is the most unhealthy. Even using the example of McDonalds, their salads are considerably higher-priced than fries or a burger. Even when you walk into the grocery store, things labeled as “organic” or “Non-GMO” often carry a higher sticker price. So this begs the question, why on earth are we making healthy options less available to those who have lower incomes? Why should the attempt to lead a healthy life be more expensive than leading an unhealthy life? Should access to clean food really depend on your financial status? This can even be taken a step further. Gym memberships cost money, and if a family does not have the extra resources to purchase one, how are they going to achieve a proper amount of exercise? Especially in the winter, when working out outside is not so desirable. So yes, America certainly targets specific groups of people, whether it be based on income or race.

  2. The SEM most definitely plays a large role in the health of Americans and in dealing with obesity. The public health of the U.S, as many know, is rather atrocious. Economically, many people with lower incomes have no other option than to purchase unhealthy foods due to the high expenses of healthy foods. Americans confuse “diet” with “nutrition” and do not understand the difference between how much to eat versus what to eat. New, staggering statistics suggest that nearly 70% of adults in the U.S are overweight or obese.

    I believe it is more difficult and complex than to simply say, “why aren’t we making healthy food options more available to those with lower incomes?”. It is more challenging than that. It costs more money to produce healthy, organic foods. Coming from a rural community and living on a farm for 18 years, I know what it is like to work in the fields and on the farm and the difference between organic and non-organic.

    The blog leaders connections between the SEM and obesity in the U.S were accurate and well said. Unfortunately, I believe this epidemic will take a long time if it is ever fixed. It has become the norm and a way of life in the U.S. Educating ourselves is the best thing we can do to become healthier.

  3. I see the role SEM plays in people’s eating habits and believe the most important level which should be looked at the most is the interpersonal level. At the end of the day it is an individuals responsibility to watch for his/her health. The way I see it is if you are disciplined and actually care enough about your physical well being then you would do what it takes to eat healthy.

  4. While I do believe that it is an individual’s responsibility to be aware of their nutritional health and be in control of their diet, I also believe that food corporations and manufacturing companies should be held responsible for the food they produce. It is common knowledge that a Big Mac is not a healthy food choice, and yes, the consumer is not forced to buy the burger. But if there is no doubt that the producer themselves know it’s high in saturated fat, sodium, calories, etc. why do they still produce and sell them to the public, knowing that their product is contributing to the rising levels of obesity in America? It is all because of profit. Fast food is sold cheap so the corporations are guaranteed a consumer market, and it’s even cheaper to produce their processed patties and nuggets. Multi-billion dollar corporations don’t care about the nutritional value, or lack thereof, of their food products, they simply care about marketing their products as the best ones available. For families of low-income, it’s not even a choice between inorganic or organic. The cheapest option always wins. The option of healthy eating, of getting fruits and vegetables, of being gluten free, vegan, paleo, etc. should not be a privilege, it should be a right that everyone, no matter their socialeconomic status, should have available to them. And it has to start with the food monopolies making a commitment to make foods healthier, while affordable.

  5. It is heartbreaking to think about the socioeconomic disparity in food, for it is something that is a basic and essential need at least three times a day. This disparity is a complex, looming problem that has no easy answer. Lack of knowledge of what is healthy and what is not plays a big role in this problem, but the inaccessibility to good food is also another aspect of this problem that needs to be addressed.

    Food is expensive, especially healthy food like vegetables and fruits. Automatically, there is a socioeconomic divide in what people can and cannot buy because junk food is cheaper than healthy food. Many lower-income families across America can not spare the time or the money to go to a grocery store and buy four apples, which is the same price for four burgers at McDonalds. They have to choose between a unsatisfying meal of a few apples and a meal that could fully feed their family even though they know it is unhealthy.

    Food needs to not only be less expensive than junk food, people also need to have equal and easy access to a variety of nutritious foods. Millions of people, especially those who have a lower income and live in urban areas, are stuck in “food deserts,” and do not have easy access to a grocery store. They rely on convenience stores which are easy and cheap but rarely have a variety of nutritious food or nutritious food at all. If these people did want to go to a grocery store, the nearest one could be miles away. People who do not have cars would have to ride the bus, which could be a great hassle. Grocery shopping itself could be a whole-day affair for these busy people, so they have to rely on convenience stores to feed their families. This leads to the shocking reality that many of these children living in these “food deserts” do not know or have never eaten something as simple as a strawberry.

    “Food deserts” exist in rural places too. While there are many farms across the United States, many of these farms do not grow food for direct human consumption but for things like animal feed. Even though these people could be living in a place surrounded by farms, these farms could only be growing wheat, soy, and corn.

    Though a cookbook is a great idea to show people how to make a balanced meal, if they do not even have access to the ingredients, there is simply no point. While working towards better educating people about nutritious food, we also need to be fighting for equal accessibility. As customers of grocery stores, we have the responsibility and the power to tell companies what we want to see in these stores. As customers, we have that power to tell food companies and grocery stores that we want healthier foods at lower prices. If we do not even speak up for ourselves, they will never know what we want, and therefore, the change will never come.

  6. Although I agree that it is the individual’s responsibility to control what they put in their bodies, there are also many other factors that affect an individual’s desire for unhealthy food.
    At the organizational level, fast food companies are incredibly good at making appealing commercials that cause people to want to eat fast food. The desire of great tasting food coupled with the seemingly desirable aesthetics on advertisements, individuals cannot resist the temptation to go out and buy a quick bite. Everyone knows that obesity is increasing, but no one is trying to stop themselves from becoming part of that increase because of the appealing ads.
    At the interpersonal level, friends and family can easily influence a child’s opinion on fast food and food consumption. If introduced to fast food at an early age for the parents’ convenience instead of being exposed to healthy food, they are probably more likely to desire more fast food in the future.

  7. I appreciate your post here and agree with many of the points you made. I completely agree with you that there definitely seems to be a correlation between economic status and eating habits. I find this interesting but also very sad. Your example of the $1 menu at McDonald’s being the only option for some people is actuality a reality sometimes. In my junior year of high school, a club I was in would frequently go to Detroit to work in a community garden. Across the street from the garden was one of the most frequented places in that area by the locals, a McDonald’s. We went to the McDonald’s after work one day and I remember being overwhelmed by the limited selection on the menu. The majority of the things they sold at this particular location were items around $1.50. The $1 menu and a few other items were the only things available to customers. Your McDonald’s example reminded me of that day. Sometimes people are limited to the food in close proximity to them, and by its price. A cookbook may be able to help people who have access to and can afford ingredients, but unfortunately even a cookbook is not a complete solution to the ongoing problem of lower class families eating generally unhealthy.

  8. While I support the claim that socioeconomic status is a cause of rising levels of obesity in America, due to rising prices of nutritional foods and falling prices of the typical fast foods, many other factors can potentially affect obesity, and possibly in more significant ways. I believe that the relationship between prices favoring fast foods and levels of obesity, although related, may be exaggerated, in the sense that other factors associated with socioeconomic status may cause rising levels of obesity. One example is that poor living and social conditions may contribute to genetic predispositions that favors obesity.

    Other factors that undoubtedly contribute to obesity, mentioned above, include the increase in incorporation of unhealthy substances in cheap, fast foods, and a average increase in amount of food consumed per person. In addition, I believe that the community aspect of SEM plays a huge role in rising levels of obesity. Current workplaces and increased transportation efficiency characterize more sedentary lifestyles and less exercise. Weight loss programs may also remove the incentive that people should go outside.

  9. I completely agree that healthy foods are pretty expensive. It is unfortunate that most of the foods that one wants are expensive and therefore, of course, the last option is fast food.
    Cooking books are one’s best bet in learning how to cook, but then again it requires buying the ingredients.
    I’m not sure if this problem will ever be solved because it is unfair how lower class families really don’t have a variety of options due to high prices when one is trying to be healthy. I think in the long run the levels of obesity will continue to increase as many people are in low paying jobs and it is difficult for them.

  10. I agree that the socioeconomic status of people plays a huge role in their eating habits and their health as a result of this. Often times, healthy food is much more expensive than unhealthy, processed food. This is appealing to people who must adhere to a strict budget not only because it is cheaper, but in addition to this, these people are often working multiple poorly paying jobs and may not have the time to go buy healthy ingredients and make a meal out of them. If a person has this burden and is also the main homemaker for their family, their poor diet will most likely transfer onto others in that family and whoever else they are providing for.

    I also think that cook books are a resource that has to potential to help people get healthier, but I also think that in communities where many of the residents are of a lower socioeconomic status, that organizations should be formed to promote healthy living. Groups like this would organize community meals in which community members would prepare healthy meals for each other and share recipes.

  11. I agree with you that socioeconomic status is very closely related to the amount of healthy foods eaten. Families who need to work all the time to provide a safe lifestyle for their children don’t have the time or money in order to go grocery shopping for their children. They rely on picking up burgers from the dollar menu on their way home from work. Also, a lot of low income family’s rely on their children’s schools providing breakfast and lunch. The school lunches have been going under a reform, but are by no means healthy. New laws require students to get a fruit or a vegetable with every meal given away at school. But french fries and pizza mysteriously qualify for a vegetable and children tend to just throw their apple away. School’s need to start having healthier lunches so kids can grow up and be more likely to continue healthy eating patterns.

  12. I agree that the socioeconomic status of people plays an enormous role in their health and habits. While healthy food is expensive, it also takes time to prepare. Many people do not have the time in their day to stop working and prepare a meal every day. Fast food chains offer money and time saving meals. In today’s world, there are many people working multiple jobs or jobs that require many hours of work and some people don’t have the energy to prepare meals. Many unhealthy diets are also caused by habits. Some farmers markets sell produce that they use organic practices to grow but they cannot afford to put the fda organic label on it. The problem is that there are not farmers markets everywhere. Another solution is eating less meat. Fruits and vegetables are relatively cheaper than buying meat or other animal products. Shifting towards a more vegetable oriented diet could save more money but it is a matter of whether the person wants to make the switch or not and whether they can still afford it. Kids see what their parents do and they copy it. The parents prepare what they themselves will eat and the kids usually eat that food so these habits can be developed this way. I think a cook book could help in some ways but a lot of these eating habits are habits. Social and living conditions play a role in creating these habits and changing your socioeconomic condition is not easy.

  13. I agree with you that socioeconomic status is closely linked to what people eat. On top of people not being able to afford healthier options and/or being able to the time cooking/learning how to cook, unhealthy options are readily available to people of lower socioeconomic status. The presence of fast food chains are noticeably higher in lower socioeconomic regions. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that lower SES individuals are more likely to have energy-dense, nutrient poor diets due to the low price and convenient locations of unhealthy food purveyors. The location factor of this report demonstrates the strategic targeting of low income individuals by fast food franchises. Additionally, a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Arizona State University revealed that fast food chains in predominately low income neighborhoods were over 60% more likely to advertise to children.

    Children, being as impressionable as they are, seem to absorb the eating habit of those around them. As the blog leader said, children tend to follow the patterns of friends and family. The habits of their parents transpire to themselves. Children are also susceptible to marketing ploys by large fast food corporations. The Food Research and Action Center report that there is higher presence of fast food restaurants in low income communities, especially near schools. FRAC also notes that low income families are disproportionately targeted by marketing and advertising for obesity promoting products.

  14. Socioeconomic status is a huge indicator in regards to a person’s diet. There’s a term called “food deserts” to describe areas that lack access to healthy food. A food desert tend to be economically-depressed urban or rural communities where grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and health food stores are scare or even non-existent. As such, people who live in these areas have to purchase food from places such as fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Combined with other factors, the result is inferior health outcomes compared to those from more affluent areas with access to high-quality and healthier food.

    To begin alleviating this problem, people have planted gardens, opened their own produce markets, and held events to advocate healthy eating. This should be done across the country, and we should fund gardens, farmer’s markets, and education in diet and the importance of healthy eating. A long-term solution, however, is required. We need to lift these areas out of poverty in order to make these areas more attractive to businesses in order for grocery stores and other businesses to set up shop in these communities. I have no idea how we will achieve this, but it needs to happen to help equalize health outcomes, along with educating people about exercise and preventive measures to combat chronic health issues such as obesity, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes.

  15. The health disparity related to food is a very prominent and sad disparity. It is very true that people with a lower socioeconomic status and who are struggling to put food on the table will end up buying the cheapest food available which is the unhealthy food. I often get frustrated at restaurants when I look at their menu to find that salads and relativity healthy meals are much more expensive than the less healthy meals. With this price gap, the food industry and market (the organizational level in the SEM) are forcing the low income population to revert to buying unhealthy food even if they don’t want to buy it just because they cannot afford it. This creates “food desserts” which are communities who lack access to affordable, nutritious food. While people of higher socioeconomic status have the choice and ability to buy organic and healthy food.
    Although lowering the price of healthy and nutritious food seems like the obvious solution to this problem, it is much harder than it sounds and simply not enough. A study conducted by the University of Buffalo revealed that lowering the price of healthy foods did result in people buying more but they ended up with the same amount of fats and carbohydrates they would have had if they bought unhealthy foods because they bought more. So the behaviorists conducting the study concluded that a “sin tax” on unhealthy and junk food could be a good approach to raise awareness of the bad habits making changes in how people choose to buy their snacks, etc… A “sin tax” is an interesting approach but there is still no clear solution to this health disparity. Hopefully, we get to a time where it is gone and healthy food is available and affordable to everyone.

  16. This is a disparity that I am really glad you pointed out. This is a problem that I realized quite some time ago and has been extremely bothersome to me ever since. There seems to be a vicious cycle with the health of those with low socioeconomic status. The only foods they can afford are those that are no good for their bodies and then they are provided with worse health care than those in the upper class who eat purely and work out in a state-of-the-art fitness facility 5 times a week. I struggle and struggle to understand why wholesome foods that come straight from the Earth come with such a hefty price tag, while foods with no nutritional value at all can be bought off the dollar menu at any given drive-thru restaurant. In impoverished areas markets are not built that sell healthy foods, so people who live there do not even have the chance to incorporate these good options into their diets. This problem is again illustrated in public school systems, where districts in lower income areas offer fewer options to accommodate to student dietary needs.
    This is a very sad issue that needs to be fixed. There are so many systems, especially dealing with health, that hinder those without money for no clear reason. We should all be working to help one another, and keeping these resources away from the less fortunate is not right.

  17. Using a cookbook as a simple method to address the issue of healthy meals seems like a nice fix, but I’d argue that it isn’t that easy. You noted that anyone, regardless of socioeconomic class, could follow a cookbook, but the money required to make a healthy meal is almost always superseded by the cost and speed of cheap, incredibly unhealthy junk like instant noodles. In fact, I’m sure many families would love to provide healthy meals, but most lack the money to provide the ingredients and the time to do the actual cooking, not the knowledge. As such, a better solution to this issue would be to teach families effective budgeting strategies, so that any leftover money spent paying rent, clothes, utilities, and any other amenities can go to ensuring a healthy meal.

  18. I agree that the system of eating is structured in a way that does not benefit the poor. It is a cycle that can’t be stopped unless the government, or private industry, drastically changes incentives for the food industry. If you have any knowledge about the food industry in America, it is on of the most corrupt, disgusting markets out there. From lobbyists in the government to the actual treatment of our food, the food industry is awful, and it only benefits the wealthy because of the intertwined government policies that created our over-capitalized nation. Food businesses like McDonald’s will never stop feeding the lower income populations because that is where they make their money. Without this change, healthy food will never reach poorer communities, and the cycle will continue. Another intertwined problem is the education in America. Without proper knowledge, a person won’t even know that they may be making an unhealthy decision. So, although purchasing a cookbook may be a solution, I feel it would hardly be realistic or practical for a majority of our country to solve their health problem with a solution like that. I believe it will only be solved by a major government shift in policy in the food industry.

  19. Your post brings up a topic that I have always been very interested in. Many of America’s most obese citizens are also those near the poverty line. Why? Because like you said, they can’t afford to buy healthy, organic food. In addition, I think part of it has to do with time. Unfortunately, someone in poverty is probably working 40 hours a week just to scrape by. Does that give them time to prepare healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners? Not at all. However, those in a higher class may work as much, but also be able to afford help to make food, take care of children, clean the house, etc. that those in poverty can’t. The fact that those in poverty can’t afford healthy food is not their faulty. They would probably very likely prefer a chicken salad over a McChicken, I know I definitely would. I think, big picture-wise, the way to fix this is to figure out a way to make healthy foods more affordable. How do we do this? I honestly have no idea, but I think it’s something that needs to be looked into and worked on for the health and well-being of our society.

  20. Why is obesity still a problem in our world today? Will we ever live in an obese free America? I don’t believe this is possible because there are so many factors that are pushing us to eat junk food and there are fewer factors pushing us to eat healthy foods. Therefore, I agree with the statement “The organizational aspect of SEM plays a huge role in socioeconomic disparity in healthy eating.” Several individuals don’t know what eating healthy looks like; better yet several may not be able to afford it. Lacking the knowledge of knowing what is healthy and not having the funds to buy healthy food plays a vast role in why we will never be able to live in an obese free America. There is no denying that food is expensive, but foods like fruits and vegetables tend to be way more expensive. The difference in pricing of the junk food and healthy food creates a socioeconomic division between what people can and cannot afford. I agree that, “on an intrapersonal level, each individual’s knowledge about food defines how healthy or unhealthy a person is.” I’m sure if individuals knew what was really healthy and were provided the healthy meal they would automatically be more open minded to becoming healthier. Our first instinct about this topic is to blame the government, but we have to remember we are at fault also because most of us can control what we eat we just choose to eat the addictive junk foods.

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