Comment 53306

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2010 at 10:22:57

People of lower socioeconomic status tend to have less access to resources which promote good health, and less income and time available to purchase and prepare healthier meals.

Can we promote this to the status of "old canard" yet? It's been repeated locally for several years now, greeted at first with a general round of tight-lipped frowns of sympathy, but increasingly to incredulity.

The poor - working or otherwise - have "access" to the same cheap fresh and frozen vegetables at the same downtown Food Basics, No Frills, and Farmer's Market to which you and I have "access". Vegetables require time to cook, yes - but that's something which at least the non-working poor have in abundance.

Education & the Fat Spectrum

While it's obvious, and perhaps a new truism, that people with little money and little education are more likely than average to be fat, it appears to me (and, in fact, the NIH that people with some but not much money and some but not much education tend to be fatter than those wealthier and more educated.

This trend is plainly visible among my fellow employees at McMaster University, none of whom are poor or lacking "access" to good food. The tradesmen and clerical staff are clearly heavier - on average - than (what used to be called) the "professional staff" (research assistants, programmers, department administrators, human resources), who are heavier - on average - than the faculty.

One could - as poverty activists do - ascribe the propensity towards obesity among the poor to lack of "access" to good food and lack of time to cook it, but that would not help to explain why lab technicians tend to be heavier than philosophers. Or one could whip out one's handy-dandy Occam's Razor, trim the fat as it were, and try to come up with a single explanation which encompasses the entire spectrum.

Deferred Gratification: Marshmallows and PhDs

Now, I am a (slightly overweight) computer programmer and not a philosopher or a sociologist, but I'll take a stab at an explanation (since I've still got my razor in hand): the most significant factor is the ability to defer gratification. And the ability to defer gratification can get you a PhD, a reliable spouse, or a big pot of cheap, tasty, nourishing soup. A recent New Yorker article discusses delayed gratification, success in life and the famous marshmallow experiment, in which young children were rewarded with a second marshmallow if they could refrain from immediately eating a first - and whose ability to defer enjoyment of the delicious marshmallows correlated strongly to SAT scores later in life. For the impatient, Wikipedia gets straight to the good part.

If Mark Chamberlain and the RTPR are responsible for helping to spread the "poor people are fat because they don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables" canard in Hamilton, then they are only undercutting their own cause: the argument is becoming risible, and that canard is not only a lame duck, it's a red herring.

I sincerely wish that there were fewer people suffering lives of poverty and misery and debilitating obesity. But compassionate arguments don't help when they are at odds with observable facts and more plausible (if unflattering) explanations.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-12-20 09:38:24

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