Income Gap affects our food choicesBeing buried in debt and struggling to make ends meet every month can stress you out and have a negative impact on your overall health.  This type of stress is one thing that the wealthy never have to worry about.

But there are other ways in which the income gap between the rich and poor is affecting our health, and that was the subject of a recent article on MSN Money.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, while American eating habits did improve between 1999 and 2010 the improvements were not reflected evenly across the board.

In fact, it appears that the inequality in eating habits between the wealthy and the poor is actually getting worse.

The study created a “healthy eating index” where higher scores indicate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and a low risk of obesity.

When the study began low income adults averaged scores that were four points lower than the score of wealthy adults.  A decade later, the wealthy scored an average of six points higher than their low income neighbors.

The income gap is making the healthy eating gap worse.  But why?

Price – Healthy food often costs more than less nutritious choices.  If you’re living from paycheck to paycheck and on a limited budget, you’re probably more likely to skip the organic vegetables and reach for the boxed mac and cheese instead.

Access to Healthy Alternatives – According to a report published by The Food Trust, low income communities are often unable to find any fresh food at all as supermarkets disappear from their neighborhoods.  Residents of these “food deserts” are forced to rely on convenience stores which offer fewer healthy options.

Lack of transportation is another factor cited in the report.  If the nearest supermarket is 20 miles away and you don’t have access to a car, you’re likely to rely more on the corner store which is full of unhealthy choices and at higher prices.

Education – Higher income generally means more highly-educated, and common sense will tell you that people who are more educated about the benefits of good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle will be more likely to adopt them.

So what’s the solution?

The problem of access to healthy food in low income communities is significant and would likely require some kind of government intervention.  Similarly, educating millions of people on the benefits of a healthy diet goes beyond the scope of a single blog.

However, there are ways around the first complaint about the high price of healthy food.

First of all, not all healthy food is expensive. There are plenty of healthy food choices that are quite inexpensive, including brown rice, whole wheat pasta, canned tuna, and dried lentils.  Some of these items may be unfamiliar at first but they are a healthy alternative that can fill bellies on the cheap.

Additionally, by planning your meals ahead you’ll be able to take advantage of coupons and sales to get the best price while also avoiding last minute calls to the pizzeria or Chinese restaurant.

What tips do you have for eating healthy on a budget?  What can we do to trip the food gap between rich and poor?

Image via SteFou!

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