Malnutrition Obesity Due to Low Wages Minimum Wages Term Paper

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Malnutrition / Obesity Due to Low Wages

This paper delves into the direct affects of minimum wages on eating habits of people. People die of starvation and malnutrition but with the advent of genetically modified food and other such technologies the number of people dying due to obesity is also on an increase. In this paper I shall discuss why the poverty stricken people are more prone to obesity as opposed to those who fare well and also briefly discuss the cases of malnutrition mainly in Latin America.

Before we discuss the affects of low wages on malnutrition it is important to truly understand what malnutrition is. Malnutrition is a condition of nutritional deficiency including under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies such as deficiency of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals interacting with infections and other poor health and social conditions. (Elizabeth I. Ransom and Leslie K. Elder) Starvation in addition to the unpleasant and painful sensation can lead to a variety of diseases like anemia, stunted growth in children, cognitive impairment etc.


America is a country that boasts great prosperity and opulence where the standard of living of individuals is claimed to be better than the rest of the world. The minimum wages offered by the U.S. government do not seem to suffice the needs of people. According to statistics there are various different wages agreed upon as minimum depending upon the state like Oklahoma where the minimum wage is $2.00 per hour and Washington where it is $7.35 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, however youngsters up to the age of 20 can be paid $4.25 an hour for their first 90 days.

In some places it can go as high as $15.00 per hour but it only applies to a very few group of workers. (wikipedia)

Under these conditions according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) "13% of poor families and 2.6% of poor children" experience hunger at some point during the year. Of the 92% of people who were subjected to starvation only 8% were children. This also showed that 567,000 children, or 0.8% of all children, "were hungry at some point in 2002" with about 400 children missing one or meals every month due to lack of funds to provide for the meal.

Below is a chart showing the statistics of 2002 on American children in hunger. It shows that the number of children starving for food dropped from about 887,000 children to 567,000 children. (Rector and Johnson).

In the city of Los Angeles there are about 580,000 people suffering from starvation. The majority of these people consist of elders and children. In the U.S. about $150 billion are spent every year on health care services and medication for people that have preventable diseases as a result of obesity, poor nutrition and lack of activity. (Malnutrition in America)

Conditions in Latin America have also gone from bad to worse and people find it hard to make the two ends meet. In places like Honduras and El Salvador malnutrition has reached it's extreme. IMF is not helping matters, as it demands that adjustment measures be applied or it will withhold further aid. According to experts the country of Honduras where the population is lesser than 6 million about 1.2 millions are malnourished and could die. Shunted growth has been found in 13 million Latin American children and 6.7 million are under weight. According to the UNICEF about 800,000 children die in Latin America due to preventable diseases. (Carlos Quintanilla)

Obesity is the tendency of the body to gain weight and is a serious cause of many diseases all over America in the present times. It is not so much from the excess of nutrition or genetic factors but from over indulgence in empty calorie foods. Fast food or junk food as we call it is high in fat and calories but lack fiber and micronutrients such as iron, iodine and vitamin A Thus overindulgence in this nutritionally cheap food is a growing cause of obesity in the U.S. where previously according to the estimates of 1960 half the American population was over weight and only 13% were obese. Presently the situation is such that 64% of Americans are over weight and 30.5% are obese. In just about 20 years twice that number has become overweight. While childhood obesity increased 66% in United States during the last two decades it has increased to about 420% in Brazil. In its report of 2002 World Health Organization (WHO) has put obesity in the list of top 10 diseases risking the safety of humans across the globe. (Donna Eberwine)

As the people struggle to make ends meet and try to save more on house rents and other property whose values have sky rocketed over the past few years its interesting to note that the price of fresh and high nutritious food might have increased but the mass-produced food is getting cheaper, particularly in urban areas. Processed foods have a long shelf life, are found quite easily in most of the markets and even in convenience stores and have a very low travel cost .All of these factors contribute towards making this unhealthy food quite attractive to those who want to be cagey with their bucks.

Restaurants like McDonalds make it further easier for the lower class to indulge in the nutritiously deficit food. In the U.S. The richer people tend to be slim and the poorer people tend to be obese. Only 1 in 6 people in the richer households suffer from obesity whereas the ratio is 1 in 4 for those living below the poverty line. (Carol Propper)

Even when the poor class goes for shopping the price of vegetables and fruits or in other words healthy food is so high that they are largely unable to afford it. This results in the increased consumption of soft drinks, cereals, noodles and rice etc.

In general women tend to have a higher rate of obesity but men have higher tendency of being overweight in developed countries. In developing countries the relationship between socioeconomic status and obesity is positive for men but negative for women.

In the modern world the definition of poverty has also found new meanings like in U.S. even the poor may have a television set, phone, microwave and other such scientific inventions at their disposal. They might even own a car .The fact that needs attention here is not that people do not get enough to eat but the kind of diet they get to eat. Where unhealthy and unbalanced diet accounts for many other diseases yet obesity is one that needs the most attention. Today this problem of poor nutrition is causing an increase in nutrition-related chronic diseases. No more are these chronic disorders such as hypertension and diabetes a disease that infests the rich in fact thanks to the agricultural innovations and an ample supply of cheap mass-produced food the poor have an additional problem of obesity to worry about. (Kennedy, E)


Barbara Ehrenreich in her book "Nickel and Dimed" has brought to light the sorry condition of people in America due to their meager salaries through her own personal experience. She left the luxury of her own home and job to live her life on just $7 per hour like the rest of the less privileged population of America and discovered how difficult it was to get by with her dignity and self-respect intact.

She took on three different jobs over a period of three months and in each job started with a certain sum of money without any recourse to ATMs or credit cards and any other thing that would make her financially secure. She starts with a job as a waitress in Key West, then works as a maid in Portland and continues her tale in a very amusing manner before ending it on her third job as a sales associate for WalMarts in the twin cities, Minnesota.

In all her jobs the one thing that was consistent was the futility of her sincere efforts since no matter how much she tried each time she hardly saved enough to get by every month.

Through her personal experiences another thing that deserves a mention here is that poverty in America has been measured according to the cost price of food items, an item that has well borne the inflation. Whereas the thing she found hardest to cope with was the ever-increasing rent of houses that reached an outrageous level during tourist season.

She observed that the diets of these people were highly imbalanced in that they lacked the fiber and essential micronutrients. People took in enormous amount of French fries and burgers all that contributed to increasing calories n fat. The corporations who employed these people made every possible excuse to avoid an increment in their pays like giving them extra facilities and…

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