Day 5 of the Food Stamp Challenge: How Obesity is Connected to Poverty

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This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge. Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

November 2, 2011 — Five days into the Food Stamp Challenge and I feel like a beaten man.

– I’m much more tired than usual.
– My mind keeps wandering off.
– I’m grumpier.
– Also, I can’t stand the sight of another peanut butter sandwich.

It only took a few days of painfully bland but carefully rationed canned soup dinners to (1) realize that I was depriving myself of energy and (2) understand why obesity is more prevalent among the poorer American population.

Yesterday, after my banana-and-yogurt breakfast, I went to the gym – and approximately 20 minutes into my workout, I flat out ran out of gas.

I was getting used to subduing my hunger, but there was no trick to get around the fact that my body was not ingesting enough calories to sustain myself. With barely $2 left for “emergency” food, I darted into the nearest Burger King.

Over the past few days, my caloric intake was barely getting past 1000. And yes, that is partly my fault for not properly strategizing my grocery list. Looking at the calorie counts on the menu board, it was easy to find single items with two times the calories I was now used to ingesting. I dove into a whopper and fries and threw up my white flag for the day.

Then I looked around, and saw a number of families with children also feasting on their meals. I saw a number of elderly folks as well.  The place was packed and it wasn’t even noon. This can’t be right, I thought.

When you are hungry, the last thing on your mind is nutrition. And when you are poor, fast food is a cheap remedy for an empty stomach. It’s largely by design that so many fast food chains are in poor urban areas.  I know how bad fast food is nutritionally, but when I was hungry, with little more than spare change in my pocket, there was no way I could pass up a whopper.

Even when I’m not living on $31/week, I am exhausted after getting home late from a work and school, plus an hour and half train and bus ride. The last thing I have energy for is cooking a nutritious meal.

So what about the more physical lives of poorer people? Many work more than one job. Many are on their feet longer than the typical office lackey, and many have to carve time out of the day to attend to children.  Fast food is an easy solution for hectic lives.

But relying on fast food can quickly lead to an overconsumption of calories.  Add that to the poor nutritional value of fast food, and it’s not hard to see why obesity is a common mark of a poor urban area.

So don’t be so quick to point to the obesity epidemic as evidence that hunger is not a serious problem in America. Because hunger and obesity are both components of a larger issue: poverty.

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2 Responses to “Day 5 of the Food Stamp Challenge: How Obesity is Connected to Poverty”

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