A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that, compared with those with a high income, individuals who struggle financially are less likely to lose weight through exercise, drinking water, or reducing fats or sweets.

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“The inclination to reduce fat or sweets, exercise or drink more water was lower in lower-income households compared to the highest-income households,” says Lisa Kakinami.

Led by Lisa Kakinami, a researcher at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, the study reveals that the reason those living below the poverty line are more likely to be overweight or obese has more to do with a desire for instant results and less to do with simply cash flow problems.

In the US, two thirds of the population is overweight or obese, but the study notes that those living in poverty are even more affected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2008, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion, while medical costs for obese people were $1,429 higher than for those of normal weight.

“The message of how to lose weight according to national guidelines may not resonate with those who struggle to pay their bills,” says Kakinami, whose team analyzed cross-sectional data on over 8,800 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected in 1999-2010.

As part of the study, annual household income was categorized into different groups:

  • Less than $20,000
  • Between $20,000-44,999
  • Between $45,000-74,999
  • Greater than $75,000.

The researchers found that individuals from lower income groups were more likely to take diet pills than shift their dietary habits or begin an exercise routine, which the team says could be counterproductive in the long run.

Surprisingly, even essentially cost-free strategies appeared to hold little appeal as an additional approach for those from the low-income bracket.

Fast facts about income and obesity
  • Non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men with higher incomes are more likely to be obese than those with low income.
  • Women with higher incomes are less likely to be obese than those with a low income.
  • Women with college degrees are less likely to be obese, compared with women with lower educational levels.

“The inclination to reduce fat or sweets, exercise or drink more water was lower in lower-income households compared to the highest-income households,” says Kakinami.

Although she notes that the study participants displayed awareness about the basic weight-loss approaches, for those around or below the poverty line, she found that there was a preference toward “methods that provide the feeling of instant results – which end up being harmful in the long run, if they work at all.”

Among younger Americans, the study revealed that those raised in poorer households were especially inconsistent when it came to following national guidelines. In detail, they were less likely than their peers from the highest income bracket to exercise, but they were more likely to fast or skip meals.

Kakinami says their findings signal a continuing message gap, as these “quick fixes” have done nothing to reduce levels of obesity in the US and may even cause more drastic consequences.

The study concludes by noting that more efforts to give priority to weight-loss strategies in line with recommendations are needed, particularly within lower socioeconomic groups.

“Perhaps all the studies that have been done about weight are becoming muddled in people’s minds,” says Kakinami. “Maybe it’s time to take a step back and evaluate what people know and understand about obesity and weight-loss.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested educational attainment influences level of physical activity. Investigators from that research said individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to engage in physical activity at their jobs, while those with a college degree are more active on weekends.