(NaturalNews) Researchers have known for years of the connection between race and income and healthy eating. And lately, as our society struggles with issues of racial inequality and financial turmoil, news articles have been making the connection between healthy eating and avoiding disease.
In the midst of all this, a recent study from Johns Hopkins` Bloomberg School of Public Health has made a major breakthrough. Researchers found a strong correlation between where you live and the quality of your diet, and identified a lack of healthy food in lower-income neighborhoods as one cause of poor diet.
Taking a cross-sectional approach, the diet of 759 participants was examined using a `food frequency` questionnaire. The results were then compared to the availability of healthy food in stores less than one mile from the home of each participant. 226 stores in 159 neighborhoods were visited to determine the presence of healthy staples like fresh fruit and vegetables, skim milk and whole wheat bread.
While the results were predictable on a qualitative level, the size of the disparity between communities was surprising.
Almost half of lower-income and predominantly African-American neighborhoods had a low availability of healthy food, or 46 percent and 43 percent respectively.
Comparatively, only 13 percent of higher-income and 4 percent of predominantly white neighborhoods had a low availability. Furthermore, the higher-income and predominantly white neighborhoods with a lack of healthy food still had higher amounts than the lower-income or predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
The study rightly concludes that residents of lower-income and predominantly African-American communities have more difficulty putting healthy food on the table because of an absence of it in neighborhood stores. But this revelation is only the latest addition to a long list of disadvantages lower income and minority communities can face.
Households residing in lower-income communities have smaller food budgets and yet research has shown that food prices in these neighborhoods are consistently higher. Also as much as a quarter of low-income households do not own a car, and cannot easily shop for food beyond their immediate neighborhoods.
But while the terms `neighborhood` and `household` can be effective ways to package and communicate research data, they tend to obscure the most critical aspect of these findings. We can easily forget that these neighborhoods are peopled not only by adults but also by children who are subject to even greater health risks from poor diet than adults. Children living in poverty have repeatedly been shown to have higher levels of risk factors for diabetes, low fitness, obesity and energy insufficiency levels (problems that without intervention or dramatic change become increasingly serious over time).
Children`s bodies are actively developing with nutritional and energetic needs much higher than adults`. With their physiological and metabolic processes being set, the development of their vital organs and nervous system in full swing, the damage that a poor diet will do to the health of a child is often permanent. If you consider that a child`s body size and composition are constantly growing, being `built` with what is eaten or breathed, the phrase `you are what you eat` gains a whole new dimension.
Another children`s health issue directly affected by diet quality is lead poisoning. Long-term damage from lead is believed to be a result of the absorption of it into body tissues like the nervous system from the blood and not from the exposure itself. A low-fat healthy diet rich in iron and calcium can facilitate the elimination of lead contamination from the blood thereby lessening the effects of the exposure. Seen in this light, therefore, a healthy diet not only gives a child the necessary building blocks to be a healthy adult, it can actually protect him/her from environmental contaminants.
There is a certain amount of hope in the fact that researchers are asking pertinent questions and finding clear results. Decisive action, after all, begins with knowledge. With so much effort being made today to improve the developmental opportunities of children from all socio-economic backgrounds, findings like these alarm us, but they also provide indicators of where to focus our energy. So even as we say to government representatives, legislators and fellow citizens, "Here is our next challenge," the question still remains: "Is anyone really listening?"
"There can be no keener revelation of a society`s soul than the way in which it treats its children." ~ Nelson Mandela
Marianne Leigh is a writer deeply concerned with environmental and natural health issues. She is currently creating a local food blog for her community as a means of provoking discussions about food, natural health and local sustainable agriculture. You may contact her for further details on this project. firstname.lastname@example.org