The Growing Diet Divide Between Rich And Poor In America

The Growing Diet Divide Between Rich And Poor In America

“Almost twice as many people at low incomes have poor diets compared to people at the highest income level,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and the lead author of the study published in JAMA on Tuesday.

Pricy Produce at Pike Place Market in Seattle

Take a look at this chart and tell me who will be paying all the soda taxes that Philadelphia just approved:


Philadelphia is raising revenue on the backs of the poor. It’s wrong. If they want to tax soda, tax the companies that make it, don’t tax the consumer. But … they would never in a million years get a tax passed that targeted BigBeverage, so they go after the little guy.

There are many reasons why people with less money don’t eat as well as people with more money. It’s not just the cost of food. I itemized several of those reasons here: The External Costs Of Whole Food Plant-Based Diets. One I didn’t mention there was marketing:

Junk food and fast food are especially heavily marketed to low-income people. “Marketing has gotten better and more subtle and more insidious” Mozaffarian said.

If we want to improve the diets of everyone, rich and poor, we need to address the food environment. We need to stop blaming the individual who is a product of that environment.

4 thoughts on “The Growing Diet Divide Between Rich And Poor In America

  1. David Dreyfus

    Overall, I agree that this is not a great way to change behavior and that it may place a greater hardship for the low income group that purchases these products most often.

    From the chart, it appears that the high income group is getting more calories from food and the low income group makes those calories up through beverages. If the tax reduces consumption of beverages by the low income group, then what will they spend the money on to ingest enough calories? Or, will they continue to purchase beverages, while cutting back on other groups?

    I am not sure taxing BigBeverage would do anything different, as they would pass the additional costs to the consumer. Most any business owner will tell you that increases in their taxes/expenses eventually will lead to increases in prices to the consumer. (This line of reasoning is why raising the minimum wage doesn’t really make a big difference in the long run, as the extra costs of doing business are passed along to the consumer.)


    1. Bix Post author

      Some very good questions there in your 2nd paragraph.

      Many people in the public health community see the soda tax as good for public health. This is one point where I part ways with them. First, I’m just not convinced that it will turn around the obesity epidemic. Show me. Convince me. Second, it’s a regressive tax. It’s not only that low income people purchase more soda (because that’s their environment! It’s like putting someone in a McDonald’s and chastising them for eating fast food) but the money they use to purchase it makes up a greater percentage of their money pot … which makes it a regressive tax. A rich person doesn’t feel the cost of a soda, a poor person does.

      I don’t think it’s right to tax food, any food.


  2. Melinda

    Generally in PA, store-bought food is not taxed at all (as opposed to the city of Memphis, where I lived for 20 years and where everything is taxed at 9.75%!!! Talk about regressive tax–areas of the state outside Memphis pay only 7% tax–this is a way of “punishing” Memphis for being a majority-black city). But in PA, restaurant meals, alcoholic beverages, pet foods, vegetable plants, and other food-related things *are* taxed. If I were too poor to buy the newly taxed soda but had to make up the calories for my kids, I guess I’d buy tea in bulk and add sugar to it (ice tea). Sugar, say in 5 lb or larger bags, isn’t taxed to the best of my knowledge. Or maybe the powdered drink mixes (say, for instant lemonade) are not subject to the soda tax, yet easily have the same number of calories and are cost comparable.


    1. Bix Post author

      Welp. I just made some iced tea. Thank you for the suggestion. Love it … hot, iced, and everything in between. It’s brewed black tea with sugar and lemon. I grew up with this every single day in the summer. I don’t know if it was where I grew up or the time but we didn’t have soda until I was a teenager. Maybe a coke in a restaurant but not outside of that. Even then it was this little 8 oz. thing.



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