Obesity in America: Fast Food Chains and Food Deserts

Obesity is an enormous threat to human health in America. According to the American Heart Association, nearly one third of children and over a third of adults in America are obese or overweight. These statistics are very troubling. Obesity is a direct cause of the leading killer in America–Heart Disease–taking 610,000 lives every year. People commonly attribute obesity to laziness or gluttony, but in fact there is an incredibly direct correlation between obesity and poverty.


Oftentimes low income individuals live in areas where fresh, healthy foods are unaffordable or inaccessible. Areas where fresh foods cannot be accessed are called food deserts and are numerous across the country. This is becoming an even greater problem as gentrification continually pushes impoverished people to the periphery of cities, where grocery stores and public transportation are not always available.


food-desert-1Fast food often becomes a staple in the daily lives of lower income people. Fast food restaurants offer cheap, convenient, and filling meals and can be found practically anywhere, even in food-sparse, low income neighborhoods. Despite the upsides, meals from fast food establishments almost always contain excessive amounts of calories, saturated and trans fats, sugars, and sodium. The rise of the fast food industry since the 1970s has also directly followed the steep increase in American obesity, particularly children. Scientists find it difficult to find a causal link between fast food prevalence and increased obesity if those are the only two factors. However, one study shows a map of the concentration of fast food restaurants in the UK and a subsequent scatter plot linking those areas to regions higher in obesity. In addition, children living below the poverty line are 27.4% more likely to be obese than children living above the poverty. Since fast food restaurants typically market to children, (think Ronald McDonald), the link becomes more and more evident.

Obesity is certainly a widespread issue in America, but when it so directly affects one socioeconomic group over another, a social justice issue could be at play. I aim to explore this issue of food accessibility and obesity for low-income Americans in the coming weeks.




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