Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The South Bronx Obesity Epidemic

My friends and I always buy cheap snacks from a local convenient store, two blocks away from our high school, Bronx Science. It’s a pretty local thing; not some fancy 7-Eleven-type gig. The store is lined with cheap snacks, most of the brands not heard of anywhere else. And probably for good reason too. One of the more notorious snacks, our personal favorite, is the Iced Honey Bun, manufactured by Cloverhill Bakery Snacks, Co., and composed of a whopping 610 calories (97% DV sat. fats, 55% DV total fat, 22% DV carbs, etc.)- it sells for a dollar.

This cheap and disastrous alternative to a well-rounded diet is easily avoidable for most people. Yet the snack is still cheaper than a medium bag of Lays ($1.25) or even a medium bag of semi-healthy Wheat Thins ($1.75). Such is the basis for the Bronx obesity epidemic. Bronx high school students, caught between the standard $1.50 charge for a skimpy school lunch and the cheaper more tempting treats, often choose the latter. According to a recent New York Times article linking the South Bronx obesity epidemic, ironically, to poor food security in the area, “A 2008 study by the city government showed that 9 of the Bronx’s 12 community districts had too few supermarkets, forcing huge swaths of the borough to rely largely on unhealthful, but cheap, food.” (

So in fact, this is not just an issue confronting the Bronx’s teenage populace, but in fact, a systemic problem plaguing the entire community. The correlation between poor food security and rising obesity rates has been delineated by Raj Patel as an inevitable burden placed upon the powerless through a food system hyped up on ‘individual choice’. Overall, our food system looks like it runs in a vicious cycle: the impulses of well endowed consumers bias market growth in the direction towards cheaper processed food, which become the only affordable choice for those with less. The trapped underclass in turn, feed this growth, eventually driving up the prices of less demanded, but healthier food choices like fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat. But in fact, there is still time for moral restitution. What is a few extra bucks spent each week on healthier foods for the average middle class consumer, in comparison to a lifetime of obesity for the financially oppressed? This growing systemic ill can be easily overcome the minute we take up our consumer responsibilities.

The Obesity-Hunger Paradox, by Sam Dolnik- NYTimes, March 12, 2010 


  1. This is an interesting argument, but I am kind of confused by it. Are you suggesting that if middle class consumers were willing to pay more for healthier, whole foods, this would somehow make those foods more readily available to the poor? We'll get into this topic more when we talk about food deserts later in the course. I am doubtful that this situation (poor quality food in low-income neighborhoods) can be changed through consumer behavior alone.

    Other readers: what do you think it will take to ensure that even low-income people have access to diverse, healthy foods?

  2. I think in order for people with lower income to have access to a more healthful diet there needs to be some education involved. A lot of times junk food is cheaper but then again but eating it long-term healthcare could be more expensive. My main reason for spending more money now, buying mostly organic and whole grain, is because I believe that by having less processed food, later in life I won't have to spend as much on healthcare because I will have maintained a fairly healthy lifestyle.

    Most lower income families actually have a hard time discerning what is "healthy" for them. A lot of times this involves some extra time and coupon clipping but in-expensive healthier shopping can definitely be done. By teaching people to look at nutrition labels and understanding where their food is coming from perhaps they will spend just a little more in order to get a little back later.