Most of us are probably under the assumption that lower income levels and obesity go hand-in-hand. The assumption goes that those with lower incomes have diets stuffed with cheap foods and unhealthy additives, compared to wealthier people who are at healthier weights since they can afford more expensive, better-for-you foods. But the Centers for Disease Control’s figures recently unveiled that the greatest percentage of obese adults in America was actually among those with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 each year for a family of four– not those relying on food stamps from meal to meal.
A recent study from the University of California–Davis shows that the reason might be that middle-class Americans are more likely than low-income Americans to dine at fast-food restaurants. The results were obtained from survey data from 1996 that realized visits to fast-food restaurants increased with annual household income up to $60,000. After that income level, fast-food visits dropped, while eating at full-service restaurants increased further.
The study’s lead author J. Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences at UC–Davis and also a specialist in health economics, speaks on these findings. “Low prices, convenience, and free toys target the middle class—especially budget-conscious, hurried parents—very well,” he said, before adding that the fast-food industry looks attractive to the middle class because it locates its restaurants near freeway exits in middle-income areas and provides food with wide appeal. He also found that people working long hours were more willing to hit a drive-thru after work.
Perhaps it’s because fast food is more convenient– but it’s not necessarily cheaper and it’s certainly not the healthiest alternative for the budget-minded. Reporters from The New York Times conducted their own research to find out how cheaply a family of four could eat in 2011, and found that they paid $28 for dinner for four at McDonald’s, but could pay $14 for a dinner of chicken, potatoes, and a salad and only $9 for a healthy, low-calorie dinner of pinto beans, rice, bacon, and different seasonings.
These findings only please U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who has been attempting to overturn the notion that healthy eating is more expensive for years. She speaks to how USDA economists have found that eating the recommended levels of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables only equates to $2 to $2.50 per person each day, on average. Those numbers are considerably cheaper than processed fruits and vegetables.
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