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Why Low Income Families Eat Unhealthy

Updated on March 25, 2013

Why Low Income Families Eat Far Less Healthy.

It is widely known that people and families of low income households are more likely to buy and consume products and foods that are far less healthy than those of average or substantial income. People have pondered this phenomenon for many years, and many still do not have a complete reason or answer to why this is. With knowing it as fact that lower income household eat far less healthy and consume more “junk foods” than those with higher income, many have been trying to disprove the theory that unhealthy food is in actuality not cheaper than healthy raw foods, such as fresh vegetables and meats, and this may be true, when speaking upon the original price, labeled on the tag in the supermarket. There are many other factors to take into consideration upon understanding why it is families and households living below the poverty line actually eat less healthy.

Some of the reasons why low income families eat more unhealthy food than other families of higher income include: coupons widely distributed by large corporations are those selling chips, soda, candy, and other processed foods that have long shelf lives. EBT or food stamps are only accepted at supermarkets, Wal-Mart, and other food stores that sell a large quantity of “junk” foods, and are not accepted at whole foods stores or Co-Ops (this may vary depending on the state). Food available at food shelves or discounted food stores are overly processed to ensure long shelf lives and prevent food rot before they are distributed to low income families and/or households. Finally, unhealthy food is specifically marketed and advertised for those living on a strict budget.



The many people who are trying to disprove the fact that processed and frozen foods are not cheaper than fresh, whole foods are only taking in consideration the price that is listed on the shelves at the supermarket and other grocery stores that sell such products. Many people do not realize that this price is rarely the price that low income households pay. Coupons are a major factor in the products that are purchased and are seen in the pantry of a poverty stricken household. Many people who live below the poverty line rely on coupons and other discounts to keep food in their pantry to be able to feed their families and themselves.

Companies that produce widely marketed, popular, and new products distribute coupons to the public in order to get people to purchase the products they are selling and also to get people hooked, so, in turn, they return to buy more. Households of low income rely on such coupons to be able to afford the amount of food it takes to stock the pantry on a month to month basis so they do not have to go hungry for even a single day. These coupons that so many rely on are only largely available for products that have a long shelf life, are overly processed, filled with artificial flavors and sweeteners, and stocked full of preservatives, and other terrible ingredients that should not be meant for human consumption.

Rarely does one find a coupon that can be redeemed for healthy food options such as fruits, vegetables, and meats. The most widely circulated coupons are for chips, crackers, sugar filled treats, soda (and other sugary drinks), processed foods, canned foods (such as soup), frozen entrées, and other foods widely known as and called “junk”. For the low income family, coupons are important. Yes, it may be possible to find coupons that provide healthy alternatives other than “junk foods”, but they are rarely circulated, and calling companies and specifically asking for coupons for healthy products is time consuming, and for hardworking low income families it is difficult to dedicate time for such tasks.

EBT, the Supermarket, and Misconceptions

EBT food stamps and other state benefits provided through an EBT card are also partially to blame for those of low income to be almost forced into buying less healthy, overly processed foods that contain a high amount of sugars and preservatives. It is true that the recipient of such benefits is solely responsible for what they purchase using these benefits, but, the state benefits are not accepted everywhere, nor do the state benefits programs (other than the WIC program) even attempt to inform and educate recipients about proper nutrition upon handing out EBT cards.

EBT cards that contain the low income family with state benefits that are only accepted in stores affiliated with state benefits. Usually, local supermarkets, Wal-Mart, and other small stores will accept these cards as payment, but whole food stores and Co-Ops usually do not accept this type of payment and usually require an additional fee for membership.

Local supermarkets and other local stores that accept EBT, most generally, sell a large amount of foods that are considered, by most people, to be “junk”. The healthy foods that are offered are overly priced and expensive and a family of low income can not afford nutritious foods. Therefore, people who rely on EBT and other state benefits, buy products that are cheaper to be able to stretch their benefits further. Therefore these families are buying more processed canned and frozen foods, that have long shelf lives instead of fresh foods that have to be eaten quickly before they rot and/or spoil. Also, most stores that accept EBT do not carry or offer fresh foods, meats and diary, hence, the low income household or persons have no choice but to buy products that are deemed to be unhealthy. These store include (but are not limited to): Wal-Mart (not to be confused with Super Wal-Mart), convenient stores and gas stations (if these stores do carry such products, choices are limited).

There is another reason in why peoples of lower incomes purchase unhealthier foods with their benefits, they do not realize the choices they are making are unhealthy. Yes, it is obvious that cake, candy bars, sodas, and other sugar filled foods are unhealthy, but people believe soup, canned food, light mayonnaise, and some frozen entrées to be healthy choices. Since people believe these choices to be “healthy” they also believe it is a smarter financial decision since these foods are also less time consuming to prepare. People do not understand, or even know, what proper nutrition is, especially when corporations label their “junk” foods with several health claims, insisting that these foods are indeed, “healthier choices”.

TV Dinners
TV Dinners | Source
Hot Pockets
Hot Pockets | Source

Corporation Marketing to Low Income Households

The sad reality is that large corporations market foods that are unhealthy to low income families and people because of the fact that these people are more vulnerable when it comes to needing to provide affordable (and may want to provide healthy) food for themselves and their family. Corporations label the food they create with numerous health claims, deeming it to be a healthy option for less money than fresh fruits and vegetables, explaining that if purchased you will not only save money, but you will save time as well.

Being able to save money as well as being able to prepare a quick, easy and convenient meals has become the norm in human society. Due to this, the health of many people (including children) is suffering because of the fact that so many have adapted to this easy and convenient lifestyle that giant corporations are selling.


The Shopper Themselves

The person who does the household shopping is the largest culprit to blame when it comes to purchasing unhealthy products to feed the low income family. Ultimately the person who provides the food for the entire household is responsible for the health and well-being of the family. If this person chooses to not educate themselves on how to properly grocery shop and provide the household with healthy and nutritious foods they will make poor decisions and purchase “junk food”.

The person whom does the grocery shopping of the household is responsible to educate themselves in how to properly supply their family with healthy and nutritious foods. If they are educated on how to grocery shop (and where to grocery shop) they will be able to wisely spend the households budget (whether it be state benefits or personal finance), and they may not need the assistance of coupons.


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    • smcopywrite profile image

      smcopywrite 2 years ago from all over the web

      I believe the overall reason is income. It costs money to eat right and healthy. Believe it or not in my neighborhood (a small town) the cost is enormous for fresh fruit, vegetables and even meat. A pound of cherries -in season- is advertised for the low cost of $6.99 per pound. A head of lettuce runs $2 and even a box of oatmeal is more than a couple of bucks. All of these have wonderful health related benefits, are great for children and adults alike and found in any sort of supermarket. The price is simply out of the average persons budget. A family of three meets their food budget eating at a fast food joint rather than shopping and eating right.

      Food stamps for low income folks are designed to eat unhealthy. There is no way the average food stamp recipient is able to avoid doing just that.

      Thank you for writing this wonderful article and bringing to light something which is extremely informational. Educating everyone on something like this is the route to getting a healthier future for our children. Thanks again.

    • renegadetory profile image

      Carolyn Dahl 4 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario

      I used to be a single mother and on welfare many years ago. Because money was tight I had no choice but learn how to make inexpensive meals. What I discovered was that fresh vegetables and fruits were so much cheaper than pre-packaged meals like chicken fingers or frozen dinners. The difference was it took much more time prepping than just whipping something out of a box from my freezer. When I made my own food, it made enough for more than one meal and I knew my daughter would get much more nutritional benefit too.

      Good Hub, voted up and useful!