At this point, it’s almost common knowledge that about a third of the nation’s adult population is overweight or obese. We also know a lot of these overweight or obese Americans are poor. The equation to fixing the problem seems easy at first—cut down on calories, cut down on weight, but it’s often a lot more complicated, especially for low-income families.

Junk Food is Cheap
Everything’s getting more expensive, but the price of whole foods is skyrocketing. This means nutritious meals are becoming out of reach for the poor. When families with tiny budgets are forced to make tough choices, it’s easy to see why blockbuster fast-food deals are attractive.

Food Deserts Are Real
Maybe even more upsetting than the price of good food is its availability. Food deserts, or neighborhoods where fresh produce and other whole foods aren’t available, are big problems in urban areas. People that want to make the right food choices have a much harder time doing it if the nearest quality grocery store is far away. In places where getting to the grocery store means having a car, families who can’t afford cars are forced to go to convenience stores that offer packaged and over-processed foods.

Less Money Can Mean Less Leisure Time
Cooking takes time. Obvious enough, but low-income families are often run by parents who work really long hours. After long days, feeding the family comes down to what’s quick and easy, and that’s usually not a homemade meal with fresh vegetables and whole grains.

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43 Comments

  1. True, True and True. Just one little issue though… I think you mean food “deserts,” not food “desserts.”

  2. Junk Food is cheap but healthy food enriched with lean meats and vegetables can be a staple for much less than a greasy bag of fries. A sound grocery list with key items can make eating at home not only a basis for family time but teach healthy eating habits. Last year a NY Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html )
    article really hit the nail on the head with this fact. Food preparations and educational tips and tricks can really open the eyes to low-income families that making meals can be of nutritional value and save money. This is one of reasons obesity rates have soared so high the myth of fast food being cheaper has to end.

    • @Monet:
      someone who has OBVIOUSLY never been in this situation themselves but thinks they know what they’re talking about. People like you disgust me. You aren’t even trying on the shoes.

      • @Nisha: @candy: I agree with Monet. There are ways to prepare good wholesome food. How would you know what she’s been through? Is it because her simple conclusion to the solution to being able to eat well? I work for minimum wage pay, and I am full-time student. However, I don’t waste my time eating trash. I cannot eat organic anymore so I choose the next best thing, clean food and a timer so that I can get other stuff done. Therefore, please don’t be mad at someone who is just trying to help. That is another issue within itself with poor people getting mad over people who are just trying to help, that explains a reason why they do not progress. Don’t reply if you are going to be emotional and cannot form a stronger argument.

      • @candy: Kudos, I’m with you on this stupid commenter. They haven’t a clue!!!

  3. Poor people can eat healthy but most of them don’t have the will to eat like a person with self esteem. Poor people are poor for a reason = bad decisions. Do you really think they’ll make better choices if taxpayers afford them yet another entitlement? Yeah Right

    • @Terry Mac: That’s the most hateful thing I have ever heard online. First of all, Poor people aren’t hopeless people and they know how to survive a lot better than most. Ignorant statements only show your insecurities. Blessings

    • @Terry Mac: PURE ignorance. This comment is dripping with so much arrogance and untruth, I don’t even know where to start. Sad.

    • @Terry Mac: Incredibly ignorant, privileged thing to say. Educate yourself.

    • @Terry Mac: Really? You actually believe what you just said? I’m poor not because I made bad choices because of bad luck. I went to college for geology, got a job, and then got injured, and disabled. Because I didn’t work long enough, I can’t get SSDI. When you have one income to live on (my husband’s) and have three kids, you have to cut things like fresh veggies and lean meat for canned veggies and fatty meat. Look around your store and tell me that junk food doesn’t cost less than heathy treats. I try to shop healthy, but sometimes you have to choose quanity or quality.

    • I am poor, and I can asure you that it is definitlely hard to pay for the healthy/organic food. My husband and I are far from lazy, or uneducated. My husband works full time, and does side jobs 25 hours a week. I just graduated nursing school, while working part-time, raising 5 kids, and volunteering. how may I ask can you feed 7 people 3 meals a day of healthy food for our $375 a month budget?

      • Poor people are poor because they make horrible decisions.
        I live alone and I spend nearly 700 dollars buying organic foods just for myself A MONTH.
        If you can’t keep up with my type of lifestyle, you are NOT gonna be healthy.

        • Daniel i know who you think you are for saying that its so mean for you guys to judge people for not have a job that gives you 100,000 a year or more. So you dont know what this people are going through and just because you can spend 700 dollas on your food becuase you have one of you when you have more in your family it cost more then taht so if you have not lived in there shoe then shut the hell up and keep that cap to yourslef.

  4. I don’t concur. Poor people eat junk food because it’s easy. Frozen dinners aren’t that cheap or filling at the end of the day. You need to eat like 2 to feel full. And cooking isn’t as tough or time consuming as folks make it out to be. We’ve been trained to want salty, fatty, and sugary things that come in increasing price bags and boxes. I don’t buy this. Food deserts are real, however, in a lot of cities, where there’s frozen, there’s likely also a produce aisle. No one knows what to do with half of the food that’s there. There’s very little education these days about how to cook the vegetables, which combinations are best for better health, and so many other pitfalls. It’s easy to say it’s expensive or not abundant, but the bottom line is, these problems are a lot more layered than what we’re writing them off as!

    • Jessica Mercedes

      @Cole: I absolutely agree with you. People purchase over processed, salty, sugary, fatty foods 1) because they prefer it and 2) because its convenient.

  5. I believe that it’s cheaper to purchase a bunch of basic food items; then you can buy your perishables as needed, watching what you’re buying cost wise and keeping tabs on dos and donts!
    True, there are neighborhoods that rely on a corner store that doesn’t offer the most healthiest foods, let alone the high prices itself?!
    Seems like an issue that needs to come up at a community center, even a part of Sunday a.m. announcements, so now we know there’s a gap, time to step up and make a difference!

  6. Jessica Mercedes

    I grew up in two separate households, one serving the usual “hood” fare: fast food, corner store snacks, whole milk, kool aid, and jungle juice. The other serving traditional West Indian food, hardly anything processed, low cost vegetables, beans/peas, brown rice, & almost everything cooked from scratch.
    As a child I thought that we ate “hood” food because we were broke. But know that I am older, with a family of my own, I realize that buying from the corner store, processed food aisles, and the dollar menu is actually twice as expensive as buying fresh.

  7. Education, education, education!!!!!!! I do agree with these reasons but nutrition education is key. If people dont know how to make the right choices and see mixed messages constantly about what is truly healthy then them having money & access will be in vain.

  8. This back & forth on poor people is interesting. But the bottom line is that their need to be more resources. To say that poor people don’t like fresh food is ridiculous.The people that I know that can not afford Whole Foods or Emporium, still eat fresh veggies and fruits as their daily meals whenever they can. They are blessed enough to live in an Non-American ethnic neighborhood, where produce and meat are more available. But what about those people that are not so fortunate? To say poor people “prefer” unhealthy food is just flat out unacceptable. Period. Because it is simply not true.

    • I completely agree! Resources and education are the only way to cut back on obesity, diabetes, and other health problems that seem to hit us harder. It is no coincidence that fast food restaraunts, corner stores, alcohol billboards plague poor communities. Now it’s up to us to do something about it.

      FYI: I don’t know if they do this in any other cities but I know Whole Foods accepts food stamps now in Philly. It’s a start. Now getting to Whole Foods may be another story…

  9. These are all very good and sound reasons but “poor people” CAN and should purchase healthier items. Junk food is cheaper because the chemicals they are packed with give the body a sugar high, then a crash, and make the consumer hungrier faster (and the producers make more money because more of their food is purchased and consumers are LOSING money and the cycle goes on) whereas healthy foods take longer to break down and you stay fuller longer.

    Education is key. If people had access to better resources, the issue of obesity can be tackled and eliminated. Unfortunately, our government and tax dollars are being used to “take care” of internet piracy, instead of putting away criminals, improving the education system or anything else the government has deemed as frivolous and unimportant.

  10. Recently, people here in Indiana that operate food banks that receive fundingwere challenged to live on “average” weekly budget for someone who receives food stamp benefits. They had to survive a week on $31.75. Now our per person breakdown of our monthly allotment is lower than the average, by $10/person at about $22/person per week. Try shopping the outer wiles of the store, where the service departments like produce, fresh meat, and dairy are located. We basically eat one cheap full meal a day. We fill in breakast with tea & toast/untoasted bread. We rarely “do” lunch, unless we hit a good price on canned soup or if all else fails, ramen noodles. We have had to finish out rough months having “Helper” sans the meat mentioned in the products name. You just reduce water and seasoning packet to accomodate less bulk in absence of the meat. In order to get the most food for your benefits, you will buy boxed macaroni dinners, etc. Take the challenge if you still doubt!

    • @Marcia Carter: Feeding 2 adults for $240 a month ($30 a week) is what me and my fiance have been doing, simply because it’s what we can afford (students can’t get food stamps). And honestly it’s tough, especially if you are trying not to get diabetes (ie I can’t live off of rice, bread, pasta, etc that sh!t will kill me lol). Even doing the outer edges can be tough. 80/20 ground beef is cheaper than red bell peppers. If it weren’t for our car we would not be able to go to farmers’ and produce markets or discount bakeries, we’d be screwed.

  11. I would love to see the people who says its easier to eat healthy than not. I have a family of 7 (daughter and 3 grandchildren living with us temporarily). Try to buy 7 apples and you will pay about $6. That means in order for each of my family members to have one apple a day would cost me $42 per week, $210 per month! Now that is only one snack, that doesn’t include breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I believe we paid $4.99 for about a 4-oz container of organic cashews. Who will that feed?
    My daughter and I have decided to become pescatarians and it is fairly expensive for just the two of us. However, we are going forward with it and will slowly incorporate this diet for the entire family. I feel sorry for those people who have little understanding or empathy of what people living in poverty go through. I pray that they never have to walk in their shoes.

    • @xstend: I agree. I tried to buy veggies and fruits but I won’t make it through the month because it’s too expensive. Plus it doesn’t help how local markets in poor neighborhoods stock their produce.

      If peppers are 2.99 a pound then supermarket will stock the biggest peppers they can find. I pick up tomatoes, apples and peppers as big as my hand and I can only get enough for a week at the most. I shudder to think how little you get on food stamps. And trust me only the parents with 3 kids and up are getting hundreds of dollars in stamps. What about the ones who only get $200 or less? How can they afford to eat 5 servings a day for a month straight? Not even including the other basics we all need for a healthy diet. It’s impossible.

      • I think it’s really about giving people access and resources. I try and post recipes that are not more than 4 bucks- but most are around 2.50. Just like learning to eat unhealthy learning to eat healthy takes a bit of work up front but becomes habit after about 21 days… Great deals on frozen veggies (grocery store brand) are usually available weekly. Dried beans are a great source of protein and simple carbs. A bag costs about a buck and can feed between 4-6 people. Lots of websites give suggestions for interesting foods outside of salad. It’s also worth a trip to a farmstand in the summer to get fresh veggies that are inexpensive. I have friends who work for 2 hours a week at a food co-op. This entitles them to a generous discount on fresh foods. Buying seasonally is also key to buying veggies inexpensively- don’t get snow peas in the winter. Eat tons of squash. Go crazy on tomatoes and corn in the summer. Don’t eat grapes in the winter (or really that often- they aren’t the best fruit). Knowing when to buy what can help. http://summertomato.com/10-tips-to-save-money-while-eating-healthy/

    • @xstend:
      I know what it’s like to live on a tight budget. I’ve done it AND THRIVED. While there are some challenges, it is not at all impossible. The cheapest food items that can be bought: rice and beans. Both rice and the beans can be cooked in large quantities and frozen in individual containers/baggies. Add in some frozen mixed veggies and voila! Instant meal far superior to frozen and convenience foods. While fresh produce is always best, frozen is second. NEVER buy canned unless you enjoy eating BPA. It’s a ridiculous fallacy to say a person needs meat to survive.

  12. Because i am unemployed, I now receive food stamps. I tried to purchase food from YES! Organic Market. They don’t accept the EBT card. I had to go to a nearby safeway who didnt have a strong select of healthy or organic foods. :-/

  13. Actually I wonder how many of those commenting here have ever truly been poor. For me I came to this site looking for suggestions on what to cook that would be healthier and cost conscientous. Frankly I work 12 hour night shifts, attend college full time (maintaining a 4.0) and care for my daughter. So I suppose if that makes me lazy so be it. Instead of berating me for that why not be encouraging and helpful. No I am not asking for a hand out (I do not recieve assistance). I am stating be positive. Post a recipe, a suggested grocery list or tips that will make it more affordable to eat healthy.

    Spreading hate whether it is to old, young, poor, wealthy, black, white, gay or any group shows weakness and self doubt within yourself.

    • @Billie: Hm… it’s funny how you talk about spreading hate yet you think assistance (which many poor people need to survive) is a hand-out.

      I guess we all have our own prejudices…

    • @Billie: Hi Billy- I totally get it- time is an issue and grabbing fast food does seem like an easier option. Resources are critical for you- not just where to go but how to prepare. There are some great websites out there that are price conscious and easy, savvybrown.com aoinspiration.com have recipes that are fast and easy. I’d also check out youtube. It is a little bit of effort up front to know where to look- but once the habit is built you can find that eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive and time consuming. It’s impressive that you are raising a family and going to school!!!

  14. I disagree with the article. My thoughts: I read something semi helpful the other day…an article about 20 healthy items under a dollar. A hamburger at Mcdonalds is .89 cents and can be filling for up to three hours. An apple is .99 cents and is filling for an hour. Time is a commodity. If people are riding buses, etc…they do not have time to cook. Food deserts are real, but lets say they can get there once a week. The fresh produce is off limits. Unless it can be eaten immediately, it will go bad. The best bet is canned…the poor do have options when it comes to denying taste and convenience. If you choose to eat spinach and only spinach just once a day, seven times a week, you will be fed. People desire variety, though. If you go to the local convenience store, you can buy terrible food but you will have food in your stomache. If you are employed and poor, you probably have a job that requires energy…otherwise going without high calorie foods would be easier. There are strategies that help but the poor have far more obstacles than the rich when it comes to healthy eating.

  15. I became disabled after an accident when I was a geologist. Now we survive on my hubby’s income and because of his pride, we don’t get foodstamps even though we qualify with three kids. I have to figure out creative ways to save on food and it’s tough to eat healthy when prices are going up on all healthy foods. Even with sales and coupons, eating healthy all the time is more than we can afford. I had a friend tell me that you can feed a family of four for $2 with 2 boxes of mac and cheese, but to eat heathy with a meal of grilled chichen breast, brown rice and fresh veggies is more like $10 for four people. If they made healthy food affordable, I would eat that way all the time, like we did when I was the main bread winner.

  16. I have NO money left out of my check for food let alone healthy food. The only way I even buy groceries is to not pay a bill or two a month to feed my son an me. I have to catch up on he let go bills the next month and skip something else that month. So it goes on and on and on and on.

  17. I haven enjoyed reading these posts. I know that almost everyone one of us can do better with less if necessary and many have had to do with less all while the price of goods and service increase and the availability of jobs , salaries, and benefits decrease. Having to make lifestyle adjustments are sometimes a good thing but it is very unfair to judge others when we don’t know what they are facing in their life. But I do know that almost everyone of us can probably make better choices if we had to.

    What brought me here was trying to find some ideas for cheap, healthy frozen or canned prepared meals for an adult child with a disability. Breakfast & Lunch aren’t a problem. Breakfast is usually toast, cereal, frozen waffles or egg beaters/ egg whites heated in the microwave with chopped ham & shredded cheese. She packs a lunch during the week to take with her to the special place she goes to work. She doesn’t make a lot of money but has a place to go everyday.

    I make bulk meals sometimes and freeze them but then there is the added expense of containers. She has an issue with fresh food, it’s like a phobia/fear. Frozen or canned is ok but she won’t consume anything without an expiration date on it. I bought carrots with a best if used by date and within a few days of the date she wouldn’t eat them. I never realized carrots had an expiration date. She can stay home alone for several days but everything she needs must be available and prepared.

    Any ideas? She likes Pot Pies and frozen microwaveable pizza but the pizza is expensive. We are getting ready to move & she will lose the little bit of income she gets because there in no such employment place where we are moving. I am hopeful I can get a job at the beginning of the school year but at least I can substitute if nothing else. I am a laid off public school teacher. We are in process of working with an attorney to see if she can get disability but has been denied many times. Just trying to find some cheap options for already prepared food. Thanks!!

  18. You can pre make a couple dozen frozen pizzas by making a big batch of dough with whole grain flour such as spelt, which makes a great pizza crust. Topped with jarred sauce or a little olive oil and then a (not excessive) amount of cheese and some chopped veggies. After these are baked toss them in the freezer in ziplock bags, or even old grocery bags or bread bags to save money. Or make up big batches of chili, pasta etc and freeze them in individual portions in mason jars saved from purchase foods like sauces. The amount of protein in the beans will be enough, there is no need to add costly and unhealthy meat. Start buying dried beans and cooking them in big batches then freezing them. So much cheaper than canned. Frozen bags of batches of hummus or split pea soup also make a cheap, healthy an low fat meal. These are just a few examples of the many ways you can stretch your food dollar without giving up convenience and taste. Best of luck!

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  20. I think that a lot of factors are to blame, here for poor people not eating healthy food but is it really productive?

    My mommy didn’t kiss me when I was a baby and so what? Stop the blaming and start finding options.

    I’m not rich. I’ve been on food stamps for years. I recently got off because I think it will open me up to more options.

    There are garden plots down the road one can rent, I’ve started growing my own fruits and vegetables.

    I’ll tell you-if you really want something you’ll get it. Nobody will be able to stop you. So if you are poor it is absolutely your fault. No one else’s. Start weeding the crap out of your life that doesn’t belong there-beer, cigs, drugs, hairdye. Just get your priorities straight.

    Good luck

  21. One important note here is to eat less. Those with low-income are commonly overweight and obese, as is most of America, but those on low-income are even more so vulnerable to overweight and obesity according to recent studies. You can really cut your budget down by eating less. I used to be overweight and I was a low-income college student. I started educating myself on nutrition and quickly realized that the portion sizes most Americans are used to eating is far larger than what the body actually needs. I cut my food intake in half and thus my food budget cut in half. I lost weight and found I could afford healthy food if I just stop eating so damn much!! Most people are eating 2 to 3 servings of food as one serving. It’s safe to say that most people are overeating, so the easiest and fastest way to cut your food budget is to stop overeating!

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