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10 Ways Life in America Encourages Obesity

Despite all of the weight-loss schemes and goofy fad diets, life in America promotes obesity.

A popular talking point on the far right is that the United States has such a high standard of living and is so blessed that even its poor are obese. But the exact opposite is true: rampant obesity reflects the country’s decline and underscores the fact that the quality of life is growing worse for much of the U.S. population.

Ironically, our culture bombards people with weight-loss schemes and goofy fad diets while doing so many things to promote obesity (and by extension, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other chronic conditions). That is not to say it is impossible to stay thin in the U.S. or that Americans battling weight problems should simply give up and take a fatalistic attitude. But obesity is encouraged by one’s environment, and there is much about the modern American lifestyle that is conducive to gaining a lot of weight.

Below are 10 things that encourage obesity in the United States and make weight loss not impossible, but more challenging.

1. Widespread, Increasing Poverty

Between corporate downsizing, outsourcing of American jobs to developing countries and the economic crash of September 2008, poverty has become much more widespread in the U.S. (where the number of people poor enough to quality for food stamps went from 17 million in 2000 to 47 million in 2013). While it is certainly possible to eat healthy on a budget, it can be challenging—especially when unhealthy processed food is cheap, ubiquitous, convenient and easy to obtain. In a 2013 article for the Washington Post, Eli Saslow took a close look at the relationship between poverty and  obesity in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas: not surprisingly, many of the poor, obese people Saslow interviewed were living on a steady diet of processed foods.

2. Food Deserts

The term food desert refers to a poor area (urban, suburban or rural) with limited access to fresh fruits, whole grains and vegetables; a place where it is much easier to find unhealthy processed foods. In a food desert, a place that sells whole foods might be 10 or 15 miles away while a convenience store or dollar store selling an abundance of processed foods is much closer. Food deserts are plentiful in the U.S.: the United States Department of Agriculture even has an interactive online  map of food deserts, showing that they can be found all over the country. In that type of environment, eating healthy and staying thin requires a lot more time and effort. One of the Rio Grande Valley residents Saslow interviewed for his Washington Post article lived seven miles from the nearest place that sold fresh produce.

3. Processed Foods Are Omnipresent

Even if Americans who are poor and obese don’t live in a food desert, they may live in an area where frozen corn dogs sold at the local dollar store are more affordable than fresh fruits and vegetables sold in a supermarket. In 2013, NPR ran a segment on  childhood obesity, comparing what healthy and unhealthy food can cost: Central California resident Araceli Flores, a mother of two, noted, “I can buy a box of macaroni and cheese for a dollar. A bunch of bananas—like a good maybe week-and-a-half’s worth of bananas—will cost me over a dollar. Strawberries are four dollars. Apples, a bag of apples, is going to cost me five dollars—way more pricier to buy vegetables and fruits than it is to buy boxed food.”

Then there’s the time factor: microwaving unhealthy processed food is less time-consuming than cooking a healthy meal from scratch. Many poor Americans are working 50, 60 or more hours a week and are plagued by a lack of free time. Processed foods save them time and money, though they will prove more costly in the long run should they develop heart disease or diabetes.

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