Built Enivornments and Obesity in Poor Neighborhoods

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America is one of the “wealthiest countries in the world and accordingly has high obesity rates” (Levin 2667). One-third of the American population is affected by obesity (Levine 2667; Gray et al. 2; Xu and Wang 19). In addition, obesity rates are higher among the residents from low-income communities (Lovasi et al 7; Perdue 821). Obesity prevalence rates in the U.S. vary a great deal across states, which range from “21.3% in Colorado to 35.1% in Mississippi and West Virginia in 2013” (Xu and Wang 19). Obesity is “a major risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and some cancers” (Xu and Wang 19). Moreover, Rahman et al. note, “Obesity is predicted to shorten life expectancy of the average American 2 to 5 years” (50). Take the case of Mississippi, which is one of the poorest and most obese states in America. Accordingly, NPR reports that with obesity rate of 42%, the average life expectancy for men in Holmes County, Mississippi is 65 years (Tackling Obesity Amid Poverty In A Mississippi County 00:00:01- 00:00:21). Thus, obesity is a precursor of different chronic illnesses that leads to decreased human life expectancy. The increasing number of obese people in poor neighborhoods is linked to the unfavorable conditions of built environment, which is understood as “human-made resources and infrastructure designed to support human activity, such as buildings, roads, parks, restaurants, grocery stores and another amenities as compared with natural environment” (Xu and Wang 19). Hence, built environments have significant effects on resident’s health based on the available resources in their surroundings. In similar fashion, Rahman et al. reveal, “Lower-socioeconomic status neighborhoods are at higher risk [of becoming obese], as these communities often have limited access to recreational facilities and food stores with healthful, affordable options” (51). Built environments encourage ‘obesogenic’ or obesity-generating behaviors among residents in poor neighborhoods; therefore, the government could help alleviate the problems of increasing number of obese people in poor neighborhoods.

Food Deserts and Obesity

Bader et al. remark, “Food deserts, or neighborhood environment with limited access to healthy and affordable food, are believed to contribute to poor diets and to elevated prevalence of obesity . . .” (411). Thus, food desert conditions that limit access to healthy and affordable food and give options of cheap yet unhealthy food contribute to growing obesity rates in poor neighborhoods. According to Sallis and Glanz, “fast-food restaurants in particular have identified as a potential contributor to a higher prevalence of obesity” (135). In addition, Rahman et al. emphasize, “A high density of fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and bars, along with concentrated media marketing, all promote unhealthful food choices and hinder good nutrition” (51). Similarly, Xu and Wang add, “An individual with a high level of consumption of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages . . . has a high risk of obesity” (19). Thus, the congestion of fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods encourage the residents to purchase and consume fast foods which are known to be ‘more’ affordable yet have low or no nutritional value.

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