Wealth Equals Health When It Comes to Eating

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A new study reveals a widening divide between the eating habits of the rich and poor.

You often hear about income inequality and gender inequality in the U.S. But what about food inequality?

According to a study published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine, Americans’ eating habits made some improvements from 1999 to 2010, but it’s not across the board.

“On an index of healthy eating where a perfect score is 110, U.S. adults averaged just 40 points in 1999-2000, climbing steadily to 47 points in 2009-10,” The Associated Press said.

Not everyone is experiencing the benefits of a healthier diet. There is a big difference between what the rich and poor eat.

While higher scores indicate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, plus a low risk for chronic illnesses and obesity, lower scores reveal the opposite. Low-income adults typically had lower scores when the study started, averaging about four points lower than their more wealthy counterparts. By 2009-2010, the scoring divide grew to six points. The AP said:

The widening rich-poor diet gap is disconcerting and “will have important public health implications,” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. Diet-linked chronic diseases such as diabetes have become more common in Americans in general, and especially in the poor, he noted.

“Declining diet quality over time may actually widen the gap between the poor and the rich,” Hu said.

The Washington Post said the healthy food and nutrition divide is growing for a number of reasons, including:

  • Price. Healthy foods often come with a hefty price tag. “Price is a major determinant of food choice, and healthful foods generally cost more than unhealthful foods in the United States,” the study said.
  • Income gap. The income gap in the U.S. is growing. “Less money for those who had less money to begin with has put even more strain on dietary decisions,” the Post said. This goes beyond the price of food. Oftentimes a car is required to access a grocery store with healthy food options. If you can’t afford a car, your food options are limited.
  • Education. “Nutrition knowledge, which is strongly related to education level, is likely to play a role in adoption of healthful dietary habits, and better nutrition may be a lower priority for economically disadvantaged groups, who have many other pressing needs,” the study said.

In other healthy-eating news, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that kids who were breastfed for a longer period as infants are more likely to eat healthy foods at age 6. In addition, ABC News said children whose parents fed them healthy foods between 6 months and their first birthday tend to continue those healthy eating habits later on.

What are your eating habits? Are you surprised that lower-income Americans score lower on healthy eating habits? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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