Obesity recently became an epidemic, an epidemic that deeply affects the low wage working class because the cost of eating nutritiously is too high. In 1996 the government enacted the Food Quality Protection Act, an act that put many restrictions on the use of pesticides, such as prohibiting any pesticides that were deemed dangerous to toddlers, infants, and pregnant women. Because farmers had to find more expensive ways to protect their crops, the price difference was reflected in the high cost of fresh produce, a proven staple of a healthy diet. As a result, the cost of produce increased and the low wage working class has resorted to cheaper food (USDA).
Recently fast foods have followed a trend, a trend that plays a major role in contributing to the obesity epidemic. Fast food chains have adopted “value menus”, menus that basically provide more filling food for a lower price. However, while the appeal of more food at a cheaper price entices customers, consumers are unaware that the low-priced foods are actually the least healthy options on the menu. Because consumers would rather pay less for unhealthy food than pay more for healthier food, for example a salad that costs three times as much as a burger, consumers order the less healthier options.
Companies have also contributed to the obesity problem. In an environment where a person spends a majority of their adult life, especially those working the minimum wage job, the workplace is the second home. It is where they spend hours toiling away to support their family as well as take care of themselves. Very few companies provide a healthy environment. Companies have always been only a place to work; they felt that they were not responsible for the health of their employees. Foods offered at work were of low nutritious value, and those that were adequate in nutrition were expensively priced. An employee’s only options were vending machine snacks filled with chips and cookies, and canteens that served greasy, artery-clogging foods.
The question is: is the blame placed on the consumer or the people who affect their choices? Blame has constantly been placed on the consumer, instigating the notion that it is their fault they are obese and unhealthy. However, is it really their fault if they have little income and can only afford the unhealthy options? Do they really have a choice in deciding how healthy they and their families eat if their choices are limited by the conditions set by a higher power?
The government’s Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 and the unhealthy environment offered by employers have put a strain on the nutrition and health of the employees because the cost of eating healthy is high while the availability of healthy foods in companies are low. Fortunately, a concern for the nutrition of the low wage class has grown thanks to the awareness brought about by the current debate over the Food Stamp Program and the increase in wellness programs, for example the Employee Wellness Program adopted by corporations across the country, shifting the responsibility from the victims to their government and their employers.
While the government has done nothing to curb the price of healthy food, the government has begun to take action to help in the process of buying food. President George Bush’s administration proposed cuts to the Food Stamp Program, a program that helps low income families pay for their food. Beginning at the end of the great depression, the FSP gives those living at poverty level food stamps so they can go to participating stores to purchase food. By making cuts to the program, Bush will take stamps away from 185,000 people (The Smirking Chimp). In doing so, Bush will worsen the nutrition problem because poor families and workers will not be able to sustain a sufficient diet, let alone a nutritious
However, thanks to the recent trial of the Food Stamp Program by Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski who tried to survive a week on just food stamps, there is a growing awareness of the situation and a push for a movement to restore the proposed cuts (Governor). He realized that even though people see food stamps as a freebie for those to lazy to work, living on food stamps is actually a challenge. The trial helped Kulongoski see that money should not be taken away from the program, but instead, more money should fund it so surviving on food stamps is not a struggle.
Inspired by Kulongoski, Councilman Eric Gioia attempted the same feat in hopes of not only raising awareness, but to bring about more change to the program, including more funding. Living on $1.30 a day, Gioia had to pick the cheapest food that forms the staple of the average diet: bread, peanut butter, and beans. However, he acknowledges that, “often the cheapest food isn’t the healthiest” (ABC 7) and by illustrating the difficulties in buying nutritious food for cheap, Gioia demonstrates that more changes need to be made to the program to allow low income families the opportunity to buy healthier food.
While it is true that in the past cheating has become a major setback of the FSP, government officials are always restructuring the program. A major challenge that the FSP faced in the past was trafficking; the process where recipients would pay with a food stamp and collect the change which they would in turn use to buy something else (USA Today). The store where the item was purchased would keep the amount of money and add it into the money statements for reimbursement. For example, a customer would pay for a 50 cent item with a $1 food stamp. The store would give them 50 cents in change and add the $1 to the revenue statement that the government would see. Since stores are reimbursed for the amount of food stamps they accept, which in this case is $1, the store will have just made 50 cents in profit.
To combat trafficking, changes have been proposed to the program, including the use of electronic databases that track a store’s inventory, revenues, etc. Also to combat confusion about a households eligibility for food stamps, changes have been made to simplify the eligibility rules since history has shown that the rules were too complicated, deterring the participation of food stamps.
Companies have recently taken part in the effort to reduce obesity. Companies have adopted nutrition programs, for example the Employee Wellness Program that “provides nutritional education, dietary counseling, and a new fitness facility” (New York Times). By adopting a company program, management makes it easier to extend healthy practices to their employees, giving those who are less fortunate an opportunity to be healthy.
Other companies notice the link between smart choices and price; the lower the price, the more likely that option is picked. An employer in Maine tried an experiment where they offered healthy foods at a lower price, and to pay for that extra charge they added a tax on unhealthy food such as French fries. As expected, the consumption of healthy foods went up and the sale of fatty foods went down (Healthy Eating). The same experiment was done on vending machines, giving very similar results, thus proving that because price and choices are intertwined; to promote healthier eating there needs to be an appropriate price to influence healthier choices.
Many argue that it should not be the responsibility of the company to take care of their employees at the expense of the company. However, recent studies have shown a direct correlation between the productivity of company and the health of employees. The healthier and happier an employee is, the less money the company has to spend on health insurance. Also, a healthier employee means less missed workdays and possibly more efficiency. Even though the concern for employee health is out of self-interest, it is still making an impact on the health of the workers and therefore, beneficial to everyone. Companies have adopted nutrition programs, for example the Employee Wellness Program that “provides nutritional education, dietary counseling, and a new fitness facility” (New York Times). By adopting a company program, management makes it easier to extend healthy practices to their employees, giving those who are less fortunate an opportunity to be healthy.
Society has made it known that obesity is frowned upon, but they do not take into account that it takes more than just one person to save someone’s health. While a person is in charge of making the choices necessary for their well-being, it requires the help of those who are in charge of the prices and their environment which is why it is everyone’s responsibility to make health a right, not a choice.