Healthiest children … in wealthy zip-codes

It’s a little provocative sounding, but the research from Adam Drewnowski at the University of Washington shows most of the obesity and overweight epidemic is closely tied to poverty.

I’ve been blogging about obesity issues all week (see “recent posts” or the tag “obesity”).  Today, I talked to Drewnowski.  I’ll share more about his ideas later. But, this one merits re-stating.  In work that was published in 2008, he took the basic federal data on obesity trends, and overlaid that onto a map of King County.  The wealthier the zip code, as measured by property values, the lower the obesity rates, and vice versa.

He told me the data might have been even more dramatic, because it turns out that the wealthiest areas (such as Medina) are not even represented.  As he put it, Rich people don’t answer surveys.

For the past two years, he’s been digging into some of the reasons why poor people are less healthy.  His baseline theory is the most obvious: eating well and taking care of yourself can be expensive, in time and money.

In work to be presented soon, he’ll argue against the idea that poor people need more grocery stores and fresh produce sold in their neighborhoods.  It turns out, most people will go several miles to get their groceries (except for the very poorest 1%).  Some people drive to the cheapest store, others drive to what they see as the better quality store. So, having more grocery stores wouldn’t make a difference.

You might get different results in Los Angeles, or Detroit — two cities where a lot of the research was conducted re.  lack of access to grocery stores.  He says that work doesn’t hold for Seattle/King County.

He does see a role for better food education (such as, cooking classes).  I’ll have that report Friday morning on KPLU.

5 thoughts on “Healthiest children … in wealthy zip-codes

  1. This is exciting research, Keith, and I’m looking forward to future posts. At a recent farmers market managers’ meeting, I was told King County had the greatest internal disparity in the nation in obesity and in smoking rates (one of the reasons it recently got $25.5 in federal money to combat these). If food deserts are not a real issue, skills training is a great focus for that money. I would love to use our market’s chef demo series to that end by “taking it on the road.”

  2. This correlation is unsurprising, still it’s good to see some research formally support it.

    I’d like to hear more about the researcher’s findings. It sounds he’s pursuing a line of good health is expensive in terms of time and money, two things the poor don’t possess.

    I’m not trying to sound cold and unsympathetic, but did the researcher look at other causal links. One mentioned was education — the wealthy typically have better education — it sounds like he may have touched on that one.

    Finally, some would argue that it’s a character issue. Staying healthy requires drive, ambition, delayed gratification, and hard work. These are also traits of people who’ve been successful in the work force. So is it possible that the character traits that lead to being proper weight and healthy are the same traits that lead to financial success?

  3. As an RN, it’s no surprise to me that poverty would be connected to obesity, but I do think it has more to do with the education piece.

    I once mentored a young girl being raised by her grandmother. Thier cupboards were filled with junk food and the entire family was fat. They saw a well balanced meal as a hamburger, fries and milkshake (dairy is healthier than soda) from McDonals. When I casually mentioned that I read somewhere how a young girl lost weight by giving up soda and replacing it with water, My little friend took it to heart. Within three months, she’d lost almost 20 pounds.

    I work in a prison at the reception center where each prisoner has to go through a physical as part of their inprocess. It’s amazing how little they know about good health and nutrition.

  4. More well off parents can also afford to send their children to soccer, ballet, gymnastics, etc. while poorer parents may have to rely on the television to entertain their children.

  5. More well off parents can also afford to send their children to soccer, ballet, gymnastics, etc. while poorer parents may have to rely on the television to entertain their children.

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