Food is expensive. A couple of centuries ago fatter people were seen as wealthier as they had more food. But boy did the times change. Scientists from UCL have conducted a study, which revealed that children born in disadvantaged families are typically heavier, even though not so long ago the opposite was true. Why obesity epidemic is threatening poorer families more?
Back in 1973 children from disadvantaged families in Great Britain were on average 1.3 kg lighter and it made sense – food is expensive and wealthier families get to enjoy cakes and carbonated drinks. Now, however, in 2015 the average difference in weight became 2.4 kg and now disadvantaged children are heavier. Actually, scientists calculate that back in the middle of 20th century, socioeconomic status made little difference to BMI. But now the socioeconomic inequality leads to higher BMI in children from less fortunate families. The wider the income gap, the bigger the difference in BMI. But how did this happen?
Scientists say that the environment itself in poorer families is encouraging less healthy food and little to no physical movement. It doesn’t take much to figure out that sweetened drinks and fat foods are actually cheaper. Furthermore, various sport activities, such as football, tennis, swimming classes, cost money and less wealthy families cannot afford to provide such opportunities to their children. Being fit costs money and requires motivation and education, which is something people from lower socioeconomic tiers lack quite often. Scientists say that some policy changes could be a good solution – policy makers should focus on a broader picture rather than individual families.
Just because a family is not lacking food, it doesn’t mean that children are receiving proper nutrition. In fact, in many cases it is not true at all. Dr David Bann, lead author of the study, said: “Without effective interventions, childhood BMI inequalities are likely to widen further throughout adulthood, leading to decades of adverse health and economic consequences”. Encouraging manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar used in food production is a good step. And so is sugary drinks tax.
However, it seems like situation is going to continue in the bad direction. Sweet food is cheap and children want it because it may be one of few sources of happiness. Fighting income inequality may be preceded by fighting BMI inequality.