Healthify Blog

The Disadvantaged Diets of the Poor

Food stamps are helping poor people get as many calories as anyone else, but there's at least two ways in which their diets remain disadvantaged.
 
One of them applies to people who grew up in poverty, and it's their reduced ability to limit their food intake, even when they're not hungry, according to a WAPO report on recent psychological research.
 
In one experiment conducted by a team of researchers at Texas Christian University, participants from higher socioeconomic backgrounds ate snacks when they were hungry and declined to eat when they were full, while those who grew up in lower socioeconomic households ate no matter how hungry they were.
 
In a similar experiment, those who grew up in well-off households ate far less after consuming Sprite, a caloric beverage, than after they consumed water, which has no calories; meanwhile, those who grew up poor ate the same amount regardless of which beverage they drank, the study found.
 
Besides difficulty in regulating food intake, the poor experience another disadvantage in their diets: they don't choose to eat as many healthy foods as people who are financially better off, even if they're consuming the same amount of calories.
 
While Americans probably don't eat that healthy to begin with, the difference between the poor and the better off shows up in their scores on the Healthy Eating Index, a metric devised to gauge the quality of any given person's diet, WAPO said in a report about an analysis done by researchers at the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
 
The average American scores only a 58 out of 100, but the average food stamps participant scores only a 51 out of 100, according to one study, and 47 out of 100, according to another, the newspaper reported.
 
Researchers have theorized that the reasons behind these aspects of a disadvantaged diet are the social determinants of health.
 
Those growing up in poorer households may be less educated about nutrition and taking care of one's own body, for example. Or they may have grown up in an environment where food was scarce, and eating became a matter of consuming whatever they could, when they could, as opposed to what was best for them when they were hungry.
 
With the phenomenon of choosing unhealthy foods, food stamp participants may be eating fewer meals because of the need to work odd shifts, which could result in picking more caloric, less healthy foods. 
 
Part of it might also be driven by the absence of free time to cook foods which require longer prep times such as vegetables, WAPO reported.
 
Healthify comes into the picture by making it easier for underprivileged people to connect to the social programs that can help them escape poor diets. 
 
If someone can be placed into housing or get assistance with finding a job, for example, that'd be one less thing for him or her to worry about, and more attention that could be spent on better food choices. 
 
And while the provision of food stamps doesn't guarantee healthy dietary habits, Healthify's ability to quickly connect people to those stamps could prevent the aforementioned starvation mindset that could lead to a poor diet.
 
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Topics: social determinants of health community resources