Obesity and diabetes rates in the US have tripled in some states over the past 25 years with overall rates rising from approximately 11% of the population to around 20-35% of the population. Much of this rise can be attributed to the consumption of more refined sugars than in the past. While the rise in obesity and diabetes rates is seen across of populations of people in the US, this rise is especially apparent in the low-income and low socioeconomic status populations of the US. There is a strong negative correlation between household income and obesity and diabetes rates in the western world, that is, the less money a household makes, the more likely they are to have obesity or diabetes. Recently, a team of researchers from Tennessee wanted to know whether this association existed throughout time or if it is a more recent trend in our society.
To do this, they collected data on obesity and diabetes rates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and estimates on household income were taken from the Food Access Research Atlas (FARA). They also collected information on leisure time (physical inactivity) from the CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The team was able to show that in 2015 there was a strong negative relationship between income and both obesity and diabetes (more money, less disease). There was also a relationship between leisure time and obesity or diabetes. Interestingly, when they looked at data from 1990, they found that not only were rates of diabetes and obesity lower, there was also no relationship between household income and diabetes or obesity. Additionally, from 1990 to 2015 there was an increasing correlation between household income and diabetes or obesity.
So why does this data matter and what does it tell us about the obesity epidemic in the US? First, obesity and diabetes used to affect everyone in the US to a relatively equal degree regardless of how much money someone made. This has changed in recent years and means that the rise in obesity and diabetes rates in the US is more significant in low-income populations than in high-income populations. Secondly, it suggests that our current society perpetuates a negative cycle for people in low-income families. Low income families can’t access healthy foods which means they consume more processed, high sugar foods. This in turn increases their diabetes and obesity rates which increases their medical expenses and puts a greater burden on their income. With a greater income burden comes less money to buy healthy foods and the cycle starts again. This data suggests that we could prevent this low-income families from suffering the burden of obesity by increasing their access to healthy foods and supporting them on their journey out of poverty.