When it comes to dietary habits in the United States, we could all do with a little reminding. More than a third of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, while 17 percent of children can say the same about themselves. A major player in the obesity struggle is no doubt unhealthy habits like eating unhealthy food and forgoing exercise. And a new study from McGill University now finds that people living in poverty, or close to it, are far more likely to fall into that category than their wealthier counterparts.

“We found that compared to persons of higher household incomes, both youths and adults of lower household incomes were less likely to use strategies that are consistent with U.S. Health Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendations,” said lead author Dr. Lisa Kakinami, a postdoctoral fellow at the university in a press release. The HHS recommends that both children and adults get 60 minutes and 150 minutes of physical activity each week, respectively, with muscle-strengthening activities on at least two to three days of the week. Paired with a proper diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, a person can make lots of healthier changes to their lifestyle.
For their study, the researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey during the years between 1999 and 2008 for those 16 and older, and 2005 to 2010 among those ages 8 to 15. In total, 6,035 adults and 3,250 youth comprised four income categories: under $20,000, $20,000 to $44,999, $45,000 to $74,999, and $75,000 and above.
When comparing both ends of the spectrum, those who earned less than $20,000 were 50 percent less likely to exercise when dieting, 42 percent less likely to drink lots of water, and 25 percent less likely to eat fewer candies and treats. Kids at the lower half of the spectrum were also more than two times as likely to try losing weight in unconventional, dangerous ways, such as purging, fasting, and skipping meals — perhaps, in part, because they couldn’t afford healthier food.
The researchers did point to the cost of healthier food as a possible reason, but said that it couldn't explain why more people in poverty were likely to forgo drinking good amounts of water. According to the Food Research and Action Center, food insecurity is partly caused by a scarcity of full-service grocery stores and farmers’ markets; cheaper and more available refined grains, added sugars, and fats; and the likeliness that produce that is available will also be poorer quality. Add to all of that the availability of fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods, and you have a recipe for obesity.
With regards to the dangerous behaviors many of these kids are partaking in, the researchers’ next step is to “explicitly assess the link between poverty and actual weight-loss behaviors,” Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington D.C., said in the release. “The new data suggest that the poorest among us, who are already disproportionately hurt by overweight and obesity, may also be wasting money on unproven and perhaps dangerous weight loss products.”
Source: Kakinami L, Gauvin L, Barnett T, Paradis G. Trying to Lose Weight. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2014.