Losing weight is difficult, and not only because of the time, discipline, and drastic lifestyle changes it requires but there are also numerous unseen factors to account for as well — including environmental variables, living situations, and socio-economic status. In fact, more and more research and insight is leading many to conclude that economics may have more to do with how healthy an individual is more than anything else.
That’s because, simply put, poorer Americans are more likely to adopt failing weight loss strategies, while their wealthier counterparts choose more successful methods.
A study all but confirms it — researchers from Concordia University looked at the habits, health, and incomes of roughly 8,000 children and adults, and came to the conclusion that “both youth and adults with household income <$20,000/year were 33% and 50% less likely to use strategies consistent with recommendations to lose weight.” And, as it follows, “Youth from households with income <$20,000/year were 2.5 times (95% CI=1.8, 3.5) more likely to use inconsistent strategies.”
The findings indicate that “stronger efforts to emphasize weight-loss strategies consistent with recommendations and the distinction between consistent and inconsistent strategies are needed, especially among lower socioeconomic groups.” Boiled down, we’re left with the fact that richer Americans typically take a different, more successful approach to weight loss: Diet and exercise.
For those lower on the economic spectrum, it’s a different story.
Poorer people were less likely to work out to increase their levels of physical activity, and were also less likely to improve their diets by cutting out less-healthy options, and steering away from soft drinks. Also, poorer people people were more apt to buy diet pills.
There’s obviously a lot to unpack here, and a person’s income obviously has a big impact on the way they live in a number of ways. But this study seems to point to different ways in which income disparities change the way people think.
But why is that? There are a lot of things to consider, as mentioned before. For example, a lack of access to information about proper diet and exercise stem from a lower income. That may mean that people are going to worse schools, or that they can’t afford Internet access. Also, it’s pretty expensive to stick to a healthy diet — fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats can significantly increase a grocery bill, whereas filling the cart full of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Ramen noodles, and some low-quality meats will get you out of there without breaking the bank.
Both of those aspects play a part, but there’s also the uncomfortable fact that poorer people make less healthy choices. We see this manifest itself in higher smoking and drinking rates among poorer Americans.
And that can be tied to higher levels of stress. Those living on shoestring budgets are constantly worried about their financial situation, and that can have a huge impact on a person’s health. It can impact your diet, and perhaps most importantly, how well you’re sleeping — which, when out of balance, can cause a host of other cascading health issues.
That’s really what’s at the crux of this issue — those with less financial sway are up against a host of obstacles, each cascading into the next. That means there’s less time and energy for exercise (if you’re working multiple jobs), less money to buy and cook healthy meals, and a need to find cheaper, easier ways to relax (increased rates of smoking and drinking). There’s also room for discussion about willpower and self control, but it’s hard to ignore the overlying impact of having less resources to pull it all together.
This can be cyclical, as well — working and living in bad environments can impact your health, causing you to be sick more often, and miss work. Your productivity suffers as a result, as do your career aspects, leading to lower levels of income. Add a poor diet, along with smoking and drinking for some cost-effective comfort, and it’s easy to see how people get swallowed up in the cycle of poverty and poor health.
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