Minorities, Urban Poor at Risk for Obesity
With the number of obese Americans continuing to grow, the urban poor, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, seem disproportionately affected, the New York Times reports. A recent article in the Times' continuing series, "The Fat Epidemic," notes that 27% of blacks and 21% of Hispanics nationwide are obese -- nearly 30% overweight -- compared to 17% of whites. Those numbers translate into 26 million overweight blacks and Hispanics, who are at serious risk of major health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Poor Diets, Less Exercise
Nutrition experts attribute part of the growing obesity problem to "a lack of knowledge of nutrition and little access to stores with healthier food." Dr. P. Peter Basiotis, director of nutrition policy and analysis at the Department of Agriculture, said, "There's no question that study after study shows that minorities have poorer diets from a nutritional point of view." A recent Agriculture Department report found that 28% of blacks have poor diets, compared to 16% of whites, with blacks consuming fewer fruits and vegetables. In addition, many minorities are "less physically active," Basiotis noted. According to a study by Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Ross Anderson, 26% of children ages 8-16 watch a minimum of four hours of television per day, compared to 42% among black children. Experts note that when children watch television, they are subjected to numerous commercials for candy and junk food. Dr. Kelly Brownell, a psychology professor at Yale University, said, "Food is widely available here in the United States, and in pernicious ways. The average child sees 10,000 food advertisements a year, and even the most intrepid parent can't keep up with that."
Obesity's Link to Poverty
Federal statistics also show that poverty contributes to increasing obesity rates, particularly among minorities. Of blacks who earn $50,000 annually, 22.5% are obese, compared to 34% of blacks who earn about $15,000. Among whites earning $50,000, 16% are obese, compared to 23% who earn $15,000 per year. Obesity is a growing problem for the urban poor, whose struggle to pay bills supersedes concerns about nutrition. In addition, experts point out that supermarkets in urban areas tend to stock more meats and fat-laden food items than fresh fruits and vegetables. Dr. William Julius Wilson, a Harvard social policy professor, said, "People in the inner-city neighborhoods have far fewer choices. They don't have big supermarkets in their areas; they go outside the neighborhood and stock up on canned goods" (Barboza, New York Times, 12/26). To view the Times' series on obesity, go to www.nytimes.com/obesity.