Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's the Poverty, Stupid!

The good news about the Associated Press report of the study by the Trust for America's Health, which ranks Mississippi as "the fattest in the nation," is that it goes beyond (in its own words) "making Mississippi the butt of late-night talk show jokes" by recognizing that this is not so much a story about obesity, or even the impact of obesity on public health, as it is about poverty. Here are the key paragraphs from the report:

Poverty and obesity often go hand in hand, doctors say, because poor families stretch their budgets by buying cheaper, processed foods that have higher fat content and lower nutritional value.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee a self-described "recovering foodaholic" who lost 110 pounds several years ago explained during a Southern Governors' Association meeting in Biloxi last weekend that there are historical reasons poor people often fry their foods: It's an inexpensive way to increase the calories and feed a family.

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and the Delta is the poorest region of Mississippi.

That Delta region, of course, shared with New Orleans the dubious honor of being one of Katrina's prime targets. Thus, all the that cautionary prose by Walter Mosley that I cited yesterday applies as much to the Delta (if not the rest of Mississippi) as it does to New Orleans. Couple these observations with President Bush's announcement last month that he would veto legislation to renew a program that provides health coverage to poor children, and we see that the Delta is as much a "front line" in the war against the poor as is that fortress of unbridled capitalism, the new floor of Saks devoted entirely to designer shoes. When the neglect of the impoverished by public health policy is at stake, it is hard to ignore what I have previously called "the reduce-the-surplus-population philosophy of Ebenezer Scrooge." Scrooge, of course, ultimately changed his ways, but only through the narrative machinations of his creator, Charles Dickens. The fate of the population of Mississippi rests in the hands of agents acting of their own free will, rather than the decisions of some skilled author; and, if there really is a war against the poor, then someone should be asking those agents which side they are taking in current and future battles.

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