Why You're Fat: You’re Not Rich Enough

If you think you can’t afford to eat better, think again.

| September 12th, 2011
Eat Pretty Barrier: You’re Not Rich Enough

We get it: They don’t call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. Healthy, organic foods not only tend to be more expensive, but those of us who live in “food deserts” (which are typically low-income areas), may not even have access to groceries, delis and restaurants that carry healthy foods at all.

What’s the Deal?

Imagine how dull and dehydrated you’d look after months in the desert. That’s what can happen when you live in an area where healthy, nutritious food— the kind that boosts skin, hair and puts a sparkle in your eyes—is scarce or prohibitively expensive. These locales tend to have easy access to the kind of over-processed, fast food that’s made to be supersized and makes you look and feel “blah.” You there, shopping the dollar menu, we’re talking to you! Step away from the budget burger and listen up.

“If you’re eating a processed, high-fat diet, chances are, you are not consuming lots of fruits and vegetables. The foods that you are not eating contain antioxidants, vitamin C, beta carotene, quercitin and omega-3 fatty acids,” says nutritionist Keri M. Gans, author of "The Small Change Diet." “You are not eating enough of those foods that have been found to help skin look healthier.”

But even if you don’t live in a food desert and are just strapped for time (and hey, they say time is money), when you’re making food choices on the fly, it’s easier to go for cheap and easy, which rarely seems to include the luscious, fresh foods that contribute to health and beauty.

Is Anyone Doing Anything About it?

The government and activists are working to turn America’s desert-ous food landscape into an oasis where good food isn’t limited to those with the cash to shop at fancy organic specialty shops. “Being able to afford fresh, healthy food is a huge barrier for poor people in this country,” says Judith Bell, president of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute. “If you look at the cost of fast food versus the cost of fresh food, it’s much lower.”

And she acknowledges that access is another problem. “For more than 23 million people, you’ll find block upon block or road upon road with no place to purchase this fresh, healthy food,” adds Bell. That entails a greater risk of obesity and related health problems.

President Obama’s 2011 and 2012 budget included the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a public-private grant and loan program (divided among the U.S.D.A., Health and Human Services and the Department of the Treasury) that helps bring new and better supermarkets to underserved areas, improves existing small stores, supports farmers’ markets and helps link up farmers and consumers. HFFI is also a pillar of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, which aims to raise healthier kids by, among other methods, by promoting healthy eating.

MORE: Learn About the LiveWell Program for Kids

“Forty five million dollars in the agencies’ current budgets is in the process of being distributed, and the president has proposed $330 million for the 2012 budget,” Bell says. “These one-time grants and loans—not constant subsidies, but public-private partnerships—remove barriers to entry into the marketplace and help the entrepreneur to be successful.”

The point? To help make the healthy choice cheaper and easier for everyone.

MORE: 10 Seriously Cheap Superfoods

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