Having a healthy lifestyle in America is a privilege relegated to those with the socio-economic status that provides the opportunity and environment for healthy practices. The poor must endure all the social ills and are unfairly ostracized by social dynamics out of their control that dictate the level of health they and their loved ones are able to experience. The myth circulating that professes all can obtain a healthy lifestyle in America is deceptive. Do poor citizens who aren’t paid a living wage truly have an option on what foods to provide their family? Do the residents of America’s ghettoes have the option of taking a stress-free jog on a cool summer’s night? Can a single mother without any help or money for a baby sitter go work out at the gym for an hour?


Food desert is a term coined by the United Kingdom Department of Health, meaning an area where healthy foods are not easily available without access to an automobile. Unfortunately for America’s poor, this is a harsh reality that most fitness gurus and nutritionists fail to acknowledge. I grew up in East Orange, NJ, which has food deserts on both sides of the city. These areas were saturated with fast food establishments such as White Castle, McDonald’s, Burger King, Boston Market, Checkers, Wendy’s, Popeye’s, KFC, pizzerias, chicken shacks, sandwich shops, and bodegas that only sold fried, packaged, processed foods. Residents restricted to this area due to their economic situation, unavailability of an automobile and distance to public transportation were without access to any form of fresh produce. The diet of highly processed foods saturated in sugar, fats and salt, along with general stresses of being poor in America, has wreaked havoc on the health of the poor. America’s poor disproportionately suffer from obesity, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which are derived from stress, diet, and an inactive lifestyle. While some may try to spread the word of a healthy lifestyle, unfortunately Americans do not have the option of healthy choices. For those who have transportation, affordability of food and time for preparation creates another obstacle to eating a nutritious diet.

Numerous fast food companies have amazing deals that allow a lower-income household to feed the family for cheap without the burden of cooking. What head of households do not realize is the savings is not really taking place, for health care bills and low quality of life will trump any money saved on the dollar menu. Unfortunately for them, their poverty is a double-edged-sword, as the food they have access to and are able to afford is extremely unhealthy for them.

Despite propaganda on shows that depict wives cheerfully preparing nutritious meals for their family after a grueling day of work, this does not happen in most American households, especially those in poor communities. Due to the low-wage jobs uneducated Americans are forced to work, they usually must work numerous jobs to make ends meet. Their work schedule does not allow for much interaction with their family, while they are toiling to afford the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothing. Due to lack of time and resources, most meals consist of highly processed foods, usually fried and, saturated in salt, fat, and sugar. This dynamic, though prevalent amongst the poor, is also being faced in middle and upper middle class households where corporations are demanding long hours for high wages, leaving most spending way more time with their colleagues than with their family.

Another burden of the poor and disenfranchised is their ability to have an active lifestyle.  As a result of the segregated demographics of America, residents of the suburbs really rarely are aware of or acknowledge privileges their ZIP code provides. The ability to engage in outdoor activities, whether fitness or just playing with one’s children, is a privilege unavailable to those who reside in neighborhoods laden with aggression and violence. Residents confined to these “inner city” areas due to lack of financial resources find themselves locked inside to protect themselves from the insanity outside their doors. As inner city facilities such as recreation centers have vanished due to lack of funding, children who once had a safe haven for activity find themselves locked inside, inactive, and being entertained by electronics. The depletion of recreational programs that kept America’s poor children active has assisted in the rise of childhood obesity and diabetes.

As with all social ills, this too can be overcome with education, preparation, and application. Don’t let your ZIP code or economic situation prevent you from having an active and healthy lifestyle.






One Comment

  1. Issues such as this are what need to be addressed during our political campaigns, but unfortunately they will not be highlighted. We need to work among ourselves to make an environment conducive for healthy living.

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