People In This Income Bracket Are Twice As Likely To Develop Diabetes. But Why?

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Time Poverty

People with financial poverty often experience what’s called time poverty. Most Americans know that poor food choices lead to weight gain, and fresh, healthy meals cooked at home are better than cheap food picked up at a drive-thru. But they take longer. In the past, American households often had at least one adult available to make meals at home, but fewer and fewer families are able to afford a stay-at-home parent, even when both parents live in the home. Even when families don’t have children, long hours or multiple jobs can make coming home and chopping vegetables seem like a daunting task. Time poverty necessitates grabbing foods that are quick, easy, and inexpensive. These foods are often higher in fat and calories but lower in essential nutrients.

And that gym membership? Time poverty may mean that prioritizing time to workout, regardless of cost, is not an option.

Healthy Food is Expensive

Families on tighter budgets understandably tend to opt for low-cost and energy-rich foods such as starches, vegetable fats, and foods with added sugars. Low-income diets typically emphasize cereal, pasta, potatoes, and fatty meats. Vegetables and fruits are limited to what is affordable and won’t go to waste. Americans with more disposable income can more readily choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.

Foods like boxed dinners, simple grains, and canned goods are cheap, filling, and won’t waste precious finances by spoiling quickly. Lean beef is considerably pricier than fatty beef, and the health benefits of fish and other lean meats are available only to those who can afford them. Studies tell us what anyone cruising the grocery store can easily see: it’s expensive to eat healthy.

But how hard is it really? Could people living in poverty eat healthy if they would put in more effort? A 2010 study in Nutrition Today asks that very question.

The study examined the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). The plan’s lowest-cost option estimated $588.30 a month in food expenses for a family of four. The TFP, of course, recommends inexpensive foods, but the study’s authors accuse the TFP of not being realistic. The plan calls for a heavy reliance on rarely eaten foods in order to meet nutrition goals. It called for other foods, such as citrus juices and whole milk, to be completely eliminated in order to stay within calorie and budget guidelines.

The study’s authors argue that eating a healthy and affordable diet is possible, but “such diets may be low in palatability and variety, may require dramatic shifts in eating habits and may be time intensive to prepare.” They noted a working mom can cook inexpensive and nutritious meals, or she can have a job outside the home, but she would be hard-pressed to manage both.

Photo: AdobeStock/Kurhan

Photo: AdobeStock/Kurhan

Food Deserts

Location can be another barrier to accessing healthy, nutritious foods. Rural areas tend to have higher rates of poverty, and they may not be near a traditional supermarket. Far-flung areas may rely on gas stations or food banks, and residents may not have access to daily sources of fruits and vegetables. These areas are referred to as food deserts. 43% of households below the poverty line are food insecure, but even when money is available, access may still be severely limited.

And Other Considerations…

Being in a low-income household or neighborhood does not mandate that a person will be overweight and become diabetic. A person’s family history, personal metabolism, lifestyle, ethnicity, and even education all impact their diabetes risk. But the data tells a story that’s hard to miss: fewer resources, apart from other factors, do put people at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The same factors that put someone at risk for diabetes also make management more of a challenge if it does develop. Those in poverty have a tougher time adhering to their ideal management plans, simply because they lack the financial resources to do so. Formal healthcare alone is not enough to sufficiently manage diabetes if patients cannot afford basic needs.

So what needs to be done?

Preventing type 2 diabetes and other chronic disease is key to not only the physical well-being of the U.S., but its financial well-being. Diabetes Journal cautions, “The link between obesity, inactivity, and poverty may be too costly to ignore, because obesity-associated chronic disease accounts for 70% of U.S. health costs.” 70% is a staggering figure and demonstrates that the costs of type 2 diabetes are not limited to only those with a diagnosis.

In order to make real strides in diabetes prevention in the communities that are hardest hit, the root causes of poverty and lack of access to healthy food will need to be addressed. Food security, good nutrition, and access to healthcare are all keys to preventing diabetes, and they all need to be addressed in order to create a lasting solution. Not addressing the root causes of the growing diabetes epidemic in the U.S. will only increase its physical, mental, and financial toll on all U.S. citizens. But those hardest hit will be the ones least able to cope.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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