Health Disparity: Race Gap in Nutrition

It’s no secret that America has a “food problem.” There’s always that person who will say, “no one made you eat so much.” And while personal accountability, of course, plays a role; as people do make their own choices. It is important to consider the availability of those choices, circumstances, and the general context. And like all things America, race is a crucial factor in the diet-based disparity. According to a scientific study of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Diet-related disparities can be defined as “differences in dietary intake, dietary behaviors, and dietary patterns in different segments of the population, resulting in poorer dietary quality and inferior health outcomes for certain groups and an unequal burden in terms of disease incidence, morbidity, mortality, survival, and quality of life.” A person of color is more likely to have a poorer diet, subsequently leading to nutrition-related chronic illnesses, and premature deaths.

The most important factor contributing to health issues related to diet-based disparity is food deserts. Nutritious and fresh food is simply nowhere near to be found. Access to the remote grocery stores via public transport is also either complicated or unavailable. Ethnic minorities continue to live in areas that continue to suffer the consequences of redlining system, which separated white people from everyone else. Those places lack access not only to supermarkets, but are also usually poorly equipped with public transportation. The socio-economic gap, deeply tied to race, indicates that the comparative lack of time and money for minorities limit their opportunities to access and consume healthy food. An already-disadvantaged person cannot spend two hours getting to and from the grocery store. Imagine how difficult it is for a low-income single nonwhite mother to get fresh vegetables for her children, and that is not counting the time she would have to spend to prepare the food. Because of food deserts and general inaccessibility to fresh and nutritious dietary options, people of color in America are often left with fast-food chains and gas stations’ processed food.

According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, only 21.3% of African Americans consume fruits and vegetables ≥5 times per day, the lowest of any U.S. racial or ethnic group. Non-Hispanic blacks were 43% and Hispanics were 5% less likely than whites to meet USDA fruit and vegetable guidelines. There are also within-racial and ethnic group disparities. For example, Lancaster et al reported that compared to Hispanic and non-Hispanic blacks born outside the, U.S.-born blacks consume more total energy, total and saturated fat, and less fiber and calcium. Gender is another contributing factor. African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. In 2015, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as non- Hispanic whites. In 2011-2014, African American girls were 50% more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic white girls.

As a result of the diet disparity, nonwhites in America are more likely to develop nutrition-based chronic diseases, yet are less likely to or be able to receive treatment than white Americans. It becomes a vicious cycle, in which marginalized groups, who already are at a higher risk of contracting diseases, are also significantly less able to afford preventative measures and treatment facilities. African Americans develop hypertension at an earlier age, tend to have more severe high blood pressure, and are less likely to receive treatment. With few exceptions, cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest for African Americans compared to whites and other minority groups. Type II diabetes is epidemic among Native Americans. Obesity, as well as other cardiovascular disease risk factors such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes are are prevalent in Hispanics..

Until public transport and supermarkets extend to the ethnic-minority neighborhoods, it is unlikely that the disparity would diminish. And even then, the wage gap between white people and people of color to buy the nutritious food will remain.


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Featured Image: USDA Defines Food Deserts. Image via American Nutrition Association.
Laura Auketayeva