New White House Research: Poor Financial Wellbeing and Obesity Are Tightly Connected
By Thierry Malleret, economist
FINANCIAL WELLBEING AND OBESITY:
The recent, historic “White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health” in the US may shift the public policy discourse on obesity more widely by highlighting the interconnected nature of financial wellbeing and physical wellbeing. They are largely one and the same, with new research (highlighted during the conference at the White House) showing that income and obesity are very much intertwined. Poor food quality is now understood to be the connecting dot between poverty, food insecurity and obesity, with the realization that the crux of the issue is not to get enough calories but to get enough “proper” food (not all calories are alike). Scientists may disagree on what constitutes the best human diet, but they all agree about the elements that compose the worst possible diet: ultra-processed and starchy foods like chips, fries, heavily-processed white bread, and drinks loaded with sugar. And these are the cheapest, most easy to mass produce, and most heavily marketed products sold in lower-income areas. It follows that obesity has little to do with willpower or eating too much. Rather it stems from poverty, i.e., the absence of financial wellbeing, and not eating (or having easy access to) real, nutrient-dense foods.
ULTRA-PROCESSED FOOD AND EARLY DEATH:
Related to the above, it should come as no surprise that two new studies corroborate just how bad ultra-processed food are for our general wellbeing, as they are “unambiguously associated with an increased risk of chronic disease” (in the words of Marion Nestlé, Professor Emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and author, among other books, of Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning). One new study concluded that ultra-processed foods significantly increase risks of colorectal cancer among men, while the other found that ultra-processed foods are “paramount to define the risk of mortality.”