Socioeconomic factors and Obesity

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The purpose of this essay is to define a link between socioeconomic status and obesity levels in children. I argue money is the main determinant factor of health and is inextricably linked to levels of obesity. The main question I posed which inspired me to research this particular topic was, ‘are wealthier people more likely to be obese than people which a much lower income? This topic was particularly interesting to me because I assume that the more money one has the more of a chance he/she has of becoming obese; seeing as people with money would have the option of eating out (which families living in poverty would not have the luxury of doing).

However, low-income areas do not have as much access to quality/healthy food as higher-income equivalents do (Taylor, 1). In addition, fast food (i. e. burger, fries and other high calorie foods) is generally much cheaper than foods that are higher in nourishment (i. . salad, fruit). This is another possible factor that increases the obesity rates among those living in poverty or low-income. Taking both these facts into consideration – that high-income families can eat out more so that could possibly lead them to be of higher obesity rates among children, yet people living in poverty can only afford food that is low in nutritional content – I want to address the issue of how socioeconomic status affects rates of obesity among children.

I was curious to find out what would have a more impact on obesity rates: having excess money or not having enough money. Another factor to consider while comparing high-income and low-income families in correlation with obesity rates is the cost of sports; “the opportunity to take part in sports programs is much more limited for parents with lower income, simply because the costs of these programs are often remarkably high” (Taylor, 1).

Those individuals and/or families that receive lower income or are in poverty simply would not be able to afford for their children to be involved in extra-curricular activities. This is a disadvantage to low-income families and exemplifies a way in which they are limited by cost; thus, likely leading their children to become obese when compared to a higher-income family that can afford to enrol their children in sports.

Brett Taylor, an associate professor of paediatrics, points out that low-income neighbourhoods are not only affected by the cost of sports, but the availability of sports as well; in low-income neighbourhoods, tend to not have as many recreation facilities and when they do, the costs to be considered is both that of joining a recreation facility and transportation which places another barrier on lower-income families which can lead to obesity among poorer families (p. 1).

In Taylor’s article, however, I argue that he often generalizes; for example, he argues that poverty is strongly related to obesity and consequently, low-income families cannot afford to enrol their children in sports programs which plays a role in contributing to obesity. I argue that although not all low-income families are able to afford to enrol their children in sports programs, it does not necessarily mean it is a factor that contributes to obesity. Low-income families have the option to go out for a jog, or do sit-ups at home in replacement of joining sports programs – there are alternatives.

In addition, Taylor seemed to be comparing only how poverty is linked to obesity. In my opinion, he should have also addressed possible ways that a wealthier lifestyle leads to obesity (for example: being able to afford more game systems which would typically result in a sedentary lifestyle). By Taylor only discussing how poverty is linked to obesity (as opposed to addressing how being wealthy leads to obesity as well) made the article appear more biased to me.

Dr. Cate Burns provides evidence in which studies show that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables are associated with higher education and higher income levels, while also pointing out that vegetables/fruits and quality food tend to be more expensive than food with lower nutritional value (p. 15). Similar to that of Taylor’s stand point, Dr. Burns also believes that low-income families tend are limited in their purchases; they are restricted by a price range which consequently affects their health.

Another example of how socio-economic factors – in this case, income – are linked to obesity in children that Dr. Burns points out is level of education; “both neighbourhood socio- economic environment and individual educational status may be associated with poor health” (p. 17). What I interpret from this is that children with a lower level of education (ex: high school diploma) are not as likely to be well-educated on health as a more educated student (ex: university degree). The child with the lower education may not be able to attend a post-secondary institution as a consequence of their parents’ low income.

Because of the lower level of education the poorer child receives, the more likely they are to eat non-healthy foods as they are not aware of the dangers. However, this is not the only way in which socio-economic correlates with obesity; “there is some evidence that low socioeconomic status leads to a psychosocial stress promoting abdominal obesity through psychoneuroendocrinological pathways” (Burns, 18). Burns also points out that higher obesity rates are associated with low incomes and low educational levels (p. 9).

On the other hand, links between obesity among children and socioeconomic status is likely to vary from country to country. My only criticism of Burns’s article would be that it focuses on data collected in the US and Australia – not Canada. According to the news journal Science Daily (2008), neighbourhoods with low economic and social resources have higher rates of obesity. Similarly, in Jay Zagorsky’s article (2005), he states that obesity is related to economic conditions and increased while the economic upturned s well. Several articles – such as Zagorsky’s and the aforementioned – seem to provide a direct link between income and levels of obesity. However, I found it to be difficult to encounter an article that discusses the link between being wealthy and obesity rates among children. Most, if not all articles I found seemed to concentrate on relations among low-income people/poverty and levels of obesity. This may be because there is a stronger relationship between low-income people with obesity than there is with the wealthy.

For further research, more articles that pertain to obesity levels and socioeconomic factors in Canada should be addressed (although it is much more common to find American journals pertaining to US data). The conclusion of these studies surprised me in the sense that most only seem to think that having lower income leads to obesity in children. Even though that is a sensible thing to say, I would have liked to see how having a higher income contributes to obesity. Nevertheless, it is evident that money (being a socioeconomic factor) is strongly linked with obesity levels in children.

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