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Pew Research Center: Link between obesity, food stamps, race

Published: Thursday, Nov. 14 2013 3:40 p.m. MST

Is there a link between obesity and food stamps? New research from Pew research center says yes.

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Obesity rates are most prevalent in countries where the citizens are living large.

A recent article in The Atlantic reports that many countries at the top the charts for obesity estimates are wealthy countries, boasting a GDP per capita of more than $30,000. These countries include the United States, Australia, Canada, Finland and Argentina.

But recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates the relationship between obesity and poverty is complicated, at the very least.

Pew measured prevalence of obesity by income in three tiers: income less than 130 percent of the poverty level, income 130-349 percent of the poverty level and income equal to or more than 350 percent the poverty level.

For a family of four, the federal poverty level, or poverty guideline, is an estimated income of $23,550, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The data also measured poverty and obesity among ethnic groups, including white, black and Mexican-American. Results indicated that poor women were most like to be obese, regardless of ethnicity.

But the bumper-sticker-slogan is not as clean-cut as "poor people are obese."

The Atlantic reported additional findings that shed more light on the complex problem.

"The richest men were, overall, more likely to be obese than the poorest groups. The groups with the lowest rates of obesity were rich white women and poor black men. Obesity rises with income for black and Hispanic men, but it falls with income for black and Hispanic women," The Atlantic reported. The makes the connection even more complicated than the somewhat nuanced view of "a disease for poor people in a rich country."

In spite of threatening cuts totaling near $40 million to security-net programs such as food stamps, the link between food assistance and obesity is also being questioned.

According to The Atlantic, the circulating debate is a simple one: "Are we paying poor people to become obese. The evidence suggests the answer is no."

At least for most who fall under the safety net.

Evidence reported in The Atlantic comes from a 2008 study that showed that while men and children are becoming obese from food stamps, women are "2 to 5 percent more likely to become obese if they received food stamps for more than a year."

"In general, Americans living at or below the poverty level tend to have a less healthy diet, as calculated by the Healthy Eating Index," according to the Snap to Health website, a viral town hall about food stamps and nutrition in the nation.

The food stamps and obesity debate permeates from critics who believe that some people who utilize the food stamps assistance are consuming more food in general, as well as higher quantities of fatty, sugary foods high in calories, Snap to Health reported.

Snap to Health reported similar statistics: women are 2 to 5 percent more likely to become obese when using food stamp assistance, and 28 percent of food stamp users are nonelderly females.

Email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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