There are 14,000,000 people in poverty in Britain becuase of austerity, UN Says

Universal Credit waiting times have ‘plunged people into misery and despair’, according to a United Nations envoy.

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Professor Philip Alston said the introduction of Universal Credit has caused extreme hardship but could easily be reversed by the Government.

He claimed the new benefits policies, which the Government say incentivise paid work, equate to ‘a punitive, mean-spirited, and callous approach’.

Image of a homeless man in winter on the british streets
The UN has said that Universal Credit has caused extreme hardship but can be reversed by Government (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

But he added: ‘If a new minister was interested, if a new Government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money.’

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, resigned from Theresa May’s Cabinet on Thursday citing her disagreement with the Prime Minister’s Brexit proposal.

Prof Alston made the comments following a 12-day, nine-city trip to the UK on Friday.

According to his report, approximately 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, with 1.5 million classes as destitute, and unable to afford basic essentials.

Prof Alston also claimed people in poverty will ‘bear the brunt’ of the economic consequences of Brexit.

He said ‘the impact of Brexit on the British people has not been examined as it should be’, adding ‘those in lower income groups are really going to suffer’.

Graph showing Waiting time for Universal Credit payments
Credit. Infographic from PA Graphics People have reported long delays (Picture: PA)

Labour have been quick to condemn the Government for Professor Alston’s findings.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said: ‘I am deeply concerned by the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report. The Government should listen to the people being pushed into poverty by its policies.

‘Universal Credit is failing miserably, leaving families in debt, rent arrears and at risk of becoming homeless.

Three million children are growing up in poverty despite living in a working household. ‘Labour will stop the roll out of Universal Credit, end the benefit freeze and transform the social security system so that it supports people instead of punishing them.’


Brazilian elections: Two candidates dogged by controversy

The general elections in Brazil on October 7 come amid recent upheavals which have resulted in a sharp political divide, with a large portion of the population either defending the idols they see as persecuted, or turning to the right in an attempt to escape the left they see as fully responsible for corruption and graft.

Meanwhile, a large percentage of the electorate are reeling in horror at the thought of voting for either of the two frontrunners.

Fernando Haddad, former Mayor of São Paulo and a former minister of education, who carried only single digits in the polls a few weeks ago, and is now above 22 per cent for the first round.

A descendant of Lebanese Christian immigrants, Haddad is a lawyer with a Master’s degree in economics and a PhD in philosophy, and has won international awards for his initiatives regarding food, land use, and transportation as mayor of São Paulo. Haddad was never in the limelight within the PT, the Workers’ Party, until recently, when he was chosen to be the party’s candidate.

He replaces former President Luis Inácio Lula Da Silva, who appeared to be the one who would finally lead the eternal “country of the future” to fulfill its destiny.

Corruption uninterrupted

But Lula today sits in a jail cell on a corruption conviction, having led polls for the 2018 elections, before being barred from running. Haddad may look good on paper, but many simply will not vote for someone they see as a puppet whose strings are being pulled from behind bars.

Just a few years ago, economic growth skyrocketed, and Brazil’s train finally seemed to be getting on track. Winning bids to host major events helped bring the country into the spotlight, and the discovery of massive offshore oilfields in 2007 ensured future success. In Brazil and abroad, Lula received the credit for most of these developments, and for finally addressing the extreme inequality that had long plagued the nation.

As the dollar began to climb in 2012, however, and as the economic boom started to lose steam, corruption, mismanagement and disastrous fiscal policies took their toll.

The World Cup and the Olympics went without a hitch (except for Brazil’s staggering 7×1 loss against Germany), but brought no social or economic returns, with most of the investment disappearing into the pockets of the organizers, and the infrastructures built were left to rust.

Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, was at the helm when things went downhill. The former Catholic schoolgirl turned urban guerrilla had been head of Petrobras, Lula’s minister of energy and his chief of staff, but the discovery of corruption on a massive scale revolving around a kickback scheme at Petrobras had Brazilians taking to the streets en masse demanding her removal.

Rousseff inherited a very prosperous Brazil, but the global financial crisis and the rise of the US dollar battered her economic plan into recession in 2015 [PPIO]

The red star of the Worker’s Party was tarnished: Lula, along with many of his close advisers, was jailed for involvement in the same scandal, and he and his party are now despised by many. Investigations into corruption allegations are ongoing, and have uncovered widespread graft all across the political spectrum, something not new to Brazilian politics.

But for some, the star still shines: there is still widespread support for the claim that the convictions were politically motivated. Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment is still considered my some supporters to  amount to a coup d’état, and many believe Michel Temer, the successor she herself chose as her running mate in the 2014 elections, is an illegitimate president.

Deft, but controversial

In this political climate, controversial figures such as Jair Bolsonaro, a former military man whose chief political strategy seems to be making outrageous statements and stoking fears of the “Venezuelisation” of Brazil, are making waves.

His high name recognition was earned by making outrageous remarks disparaging blacks, natives, women, and the LGBT community, and his unpopularity is increased by his calls for intervention by the armed forces and his idolatry for the military, praising infamous characters of the former regime, including Colonel Carlos Alberto Ustra, who had personally tortured Ms. Rousseff and many others with electric shocks and beatings.

There is little to recommend him, but he has deftly positioned himself as the law and order candidate. His reputation for probity, which he has managed to uphold even as he has admitted receiving payoffs and employing family members in do-nothing jobs in his cabinet, hangs in the balance as serious questions about his finances begin to surface.

Many of his staunch supporters tout him as the only defense against the return of the left, and he claims nearly 30 per cent of the vote, but up to 60 per cent of voters reject him. Against any other candidate but Haddad, he’d lose the runoff.

Few are the voters who decidedly vote for Bolsonaro for his own qualities, but many would be persuaded to cast a vote for him if the alternative is a PT win.

With a disorganized campaign marked by aggressive rhetoric, he relishes the comparison with US President Donald Trump.

He is not a political newcomer, having spent 27 years in the senate, but in all that time, he has passed only two bills. Bolsonaro’s hate speech recently turned against him, and he was stabbed at a political rally in early September, an attack which many of his supporters still claim was orchestrated by the opposition to end his candidacy, and some of his detractors still claim was a false flag operation.

His time in hospital earned him some sympathy votes and underlined the devastating violence in Brazil, but most importantly, it allowed his name to remain in the spotlight without his having to say anything.

Rise, Women

He is avowedly ignorant about policy, economics, healthcare, governance and legislation, but claims he has no need to know any of that if his advisers do.

With government plans vague enough to easily defend, the candidate gained some market trust after putting forward his choice for Minister of the Economy, Paulo Guedes, an economist with a PhD from University of Chicago, but he has barred him from speaking publicly about his plans after certain statements caused supporters to waver.

Bolsonaro, a captain in the army, also silenced his running mate, General Mourão, a hardliner who has called torturers “heroes” and called for military intervention, after he stated that households without a male head were “hoodlum factories,” hardly a wise choice of words in a country where over 11 million households are headed by women.

Unsurprisingly, he eschews television debates, having lost popularity each time he participated in them.

Women have spearheaded the opposition to Bolsonaro, and the #EleNão #NotHim movement quickly assembled millions of supporters over social media. Those close to him have called women who speak out against him “dirty, ugly and unhygienic,” and have brutally attacked his opponents.

A “moral conservative,” he has managed to unite the Catholic Conference of the Brazilian Orders (CRB), LGBTQ groups, popular artists, and even foreign celebrities in calling for a vote against him.

Public protests against Bolsonaro have gathered several million people, but may have galvanized his supporters, as he still rises in the polls.

The two candidates who advance to the second round will face each other in a runoff where whoever has 50 per cent of the valid votes plus one wins.

Gomes, the alternative?

Brazil only uses voting machines, and claims of fraud abound. Each candidate owes his position to resistance towards the other, but voters are not backing down.

Candidate Ciro Gomes, who is far behind in third place, with less than 15 per cent of the vote, would beat either one in a runoff.

As the former governor of Ceará, former government minister during Lula’s presidency, and congressman whose family has long been long involved in politics (and accusations of impropriety), Gomes has made it a habit to resign the offices to which he has been elected in order to pursue higher ones, and his reputation for being a bit of a hothead keeps his rejection rate high.

Planning to reverse privatization of public companies, but also close to industrialists, he seems to navigate from the left to the right of the political spectrum, and many Brazilians, disgusted by both front runners, are campaigning for him as a viable alternative.

Whoever comes out on top in the wacky races of Brazilian politics will inherit a country which has always had enormous potential but was almost destroyed by decades of catastrophic mismanagement, falling from what seemed like a meteoric rise straight into recession.

Over 200 million inhabitants are divided politically and socially, and the country cries out for structural reform. If Haddad wins, and manages to distance himself from the more ideological wing of the party, and to shake himself free of Lula’s influence, he might lead a moderate government that would give him a chance to right the mistakes of his party.

Bolsonaro is a trickier bet: he has already shown himself to be more radical than other populist authoritarian leaders such as Philippines’ Duterte or Venezuela’s Chavez were before their elections, and his lack of even the most basic understanding of public policy, as well as his abrupt persona, are obstacles to gaining necessary support and making allies in congress.

Border tensions highlight Venezuelans’ economic distress

Maduro is hoping that his new measures, including raising minimum wages by 3,000 per cent, will curb the economic downward spiral [PPIO]

Calm returned to the streets of the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima Monday after President Michel Temer ordered the military and security forces to the area.

On Saturday, Pacaraima residents clashed with Venezuelans who had streamed across the border, particularly through the border town of Santa Elena de Uairen.

The Venezuela authorities since 2016 opened the border crossings with neighboring countries such as Brazil and Colombia, to allow desperate Venezuelans to cross over and purchase their dietary and medicinal needs. But one of the challenges was the devaluation of the Venezuelan bolivar currency – now heading toward nearly 1,000,000 per cent devaluation.

Many Venezuelans have taken to staying in neighboring Latin American countries.

According to immigration officials in Pacaraima, at least 1,200 Venezuelans had slept on the streets and makeshift dwellings in the border town.

But they have now all been forced to return to the Venezuelan side of the border as the security situation returns to stable in Pacaraima.

Venezuela is now in one of the worst economic crises in the history of Latin America.

In just the past year, food protests have increased exponentially as prices skyrocketed. The crime rate has soared with violent robberies taking place including hundreds of looting incidents.

Venezuelans now face multiple daily power outages while businesses shut down and factory output drops significantly.

Even for those who can afford to buy food, staple scarcity has become a major challenge for the government.

Venezuela has been unable to sufficiently import its most basic needs as the drastic drop in oil prices since 2014 has created an enormous financial shortfall. Oil revenues have fallen from nearly $90 billion to about $20 billion as foreign debt has mushroomed to $140 billion or so.

Venezuela, like some emerging economies, has based nearly its entire GDP growth on oil exports. The recent surge in oil prices will provide some reprieve but Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday raised minimum wages by 3,000 per cent as he officially devalued the currency by 90 per cent.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Beijing on orange alert for smog

In some Chinese cities in recent years, the concentration of airborne particles, called PM 2.5, averaged nine times the safe level defined by the World Health Organisation [Xinhua]

As winter quickly approaches, the Chinese capital Beijing once again finds itself in the throes of an air pollution crisis as authorities signal an orange alert for smog for the second consecutive day.

China’s color code alerts include red – as the most dangerous and lethal, followed by orange, yellow and blue.

The red code is triggered when the city anticipates four consecutive days of heavy air pollution, including two days of severe air pollution.

A red alert is also issued if the city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches 500, local media have said.

The authorities are now encouraging residents to curb the use of their vehicles while more pressure is applied to construction sites to implement stricter pollution controls.

The winter months are particularly more dangerous as millions of Chinese resort to coal as a primary heating source.

The Chinese government has earmarked a plan to help some 700 villages turn to clean energy rather than coal, as well as shut down hundreds of polluting factories.

In neighboring Shanxi province, which lies southwest of Beijing, authorities are considering shifting their economy toward technology and away from coal production.

Currently, Shanxi is becoming one of the country’s mobile phone manufacturing hubs.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Xi promises modernized, ‘more open’ China

Tackling the issue of rising mortgage’s Xi said “houses are for living in, not for speculation”[Xinhua]

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concludes tomorrow following week-long sessions in which President Xi Jinping outlined his priorities for the next five years.

The Communist Party’s 2,000 delegates on Tuesday inserted Xi Jinping “Thought” into its constitution, effectively making the president the most powerful man in China.

Xi Jinping Thought is the president’s principles on the CPC’s contribution in governance and includes issues of development and reform.

The delegates also concluded the composition of top governing entities in the party, including the Central Committee and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

While combating corruption and eradicating poverty remain central themes in his vision, Xi has promised to modernize the economy by principally unloosing restrictions on foreign investors entering Chinese markets.

This he says will strengthen market forces to play a greater role in price evaluation, particularly in the financing industry, and help refocus the economy on high-quality growth.

In effect, he is promising a “wider” open-door policy.

“Living in such a great era, we are all the more confident and proud, and also feel the heavy weight of responsibility upon us,” he said.

China will “clean up rules and practices that hinder a unified market and fair competition, support development of private firms and stimulate vitality of all types of market entities,” Xi said.

The president also stressed that China should take its place center-stage among other nations, implementing “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

He would like to see China become “a modern socialist prosperous society” in 30 years.

The economy has in the past three quarters grown by 6.8 per cent and this will likely be the overall figure for the year, largely riding a surge in property investments.

Xi’s challenge will be how to curb the skyrocketing housing prices and mortgages, which threaten to increase household debt, without putting a dent in GDP growth which has lately been reliant on these sectors.

During his speech at the CPC National Congress, Xi said: “houses are for living in, not for speculation”.

Economists are worried about the specter of an unforseen drastic drop in asset prices after sustained GDP growth, which would have been largely sparked by debt or currency pressures.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Why Death Rates Of White Non-Hispanic Americans Are Soaring

In September 2015, researchers announced that death rates have been rising dramatically since 1999 among middle-aged white Americans with a high school degree or less. This dramatic assertion contradicted decades of increasing longevity among all Americans.

A Health Affairs study found this to be especially true for white, female high school drop-outs whose life expectancy “has fallen so much over the past 18 years that these women are now expected to die five years younger than their mothers did.”

Researchers called this occurrence Deaths of Despair. Why? The deaths were mostly caused by suicide, drugs, and alcohol, not the usual things that kill Americans.

What was causing so many white, middle age Americans (45 to 54) to resort to such extreme behaviours leading to their premature deaths?

The reasons were unclear at the time. But in 2017, the same researchers followed up with a clearer explanation for why they thought these deaths were happening. The reasons have to do with what social epidemiologists call Social Determinants of Health (SDoH).

The Social Determinants of Health

Most of us are familiar with the idea of disease as a biological process. We recognize that there are genetic, dietary, and environmental elements that make us healthy or ill. But there is more to the story of what makes us healthy as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.

How often have you considered the role social conditions play as a primary source of our well-being or our state of disease?

Social scientists have steadily, over decades, documented how adverse social conditions can be directly deleterious to health outcomes. These factors are called the social determinants of health (SDoH).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the social determinants or causes consist of the “conditions in the places where people learn, work, and play” and they “affect a wide range of health risks and conditions.” SDoHs are the causes behind the causes. In other words, the conditions under which we live heavily influence the levels of health or the depths of illness we achieve.

The CDC further defines our health as “determined in part by access to social and economic opportunities; the resources and supports available in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities; the quality of our schooling; the safety of our workplaces; the cleanliness of our water, food, and air; and the nature of our social interactions and relationships.”

This manner of thinking owes a great debt to Thomas McKeown, a British physician who studied death records from the 19th century to the 1960s for England and Wales.

Paula Braveman, MD, indicates that McKeown discovered that mortality rates fell “steadily decades before the availability of modern medical-care such as antibiotics and intensive care units.” McKeown attributed the increase in life expectancy to “improved living conditions, including nutrition, sanitation and clean water.”

Decades of research in this vein has led Tom Boyce, Chief of University of California San Fransisco’s Division of Developmental Medicine, to confidently assert: “Socioeconomic status is the most powerful predictor of disease, disorder, injury and mortality we have.” For example, poor adults who have limited income, poor education, and job status live nearly eight years less than those whose income is well over the poverty level.

It’s been well established by social epidemiologists that health disparities are pronounced in communities that suffer poor housing, low income, dangerous neighborhoods, and substandard education.

So What’s Happening to Non-Hispanic White People in America?

Current research is finding very disturbing trends.

Case and Deaton, authors of the original research cited above, who discovered the Deaths of Despair phenomenon, published an update in March 2017 clarifying what seems to be happening nationwide.

Here’s what they have found:

  • Mid-life mortality rates for all educated classes continues to fall nationwide.
  • Middle-aged non-Hispanic whites with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing mid-life mortality since the late 1990s.
  • These whites now have a mortality rate 30% higher than blacks in 2015.
  • Originally centered in the southwest in 2000, Deaths of Despair is now nation-wide, including Appalachia, Florida, and the west coast.

According to Prof. Shannon M. Monnat, “Over the past decade, nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. died from accidental drug overdoses and drug-induced diseases. Nearly 400,000 more committed suicide, and over 250,000 died from alcohol-induced diseases like cirrhosis of the liver.”

Most of these increases occurred among white non-Hispanics.

Why Is This Happening?

What makes non-Hispanic white Americans with high school diplomas or less resort to drugs, alcohol, and suicide?

Case and Deaton, in their 2017 article, document an array of social determinants that may explain the unfortunate predicament of a growing segment of the American population. The Brookings Institute’s summary of the research indicates that Deaths of Despair are accompanied “by measurable deterioration in economic and social well-being, which has become more pronounced for each successive birth cohort. Marriage rates and labor force participation rates fall . . . while reports of physical pain, and poor health and mental health rise.”

Case and Deaton have accumulated compelling evidence of the “pain, distress, and social dysfunction in the lives of working class whites that took hold as the blue-collar economic heyday of the early 1970s ended, and continued through the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent slow recovery.

With the ever-looming twin spectres of globalization and technological change, white Americans were faced with dwindling resources and shrinking opportunities. Unions faltered, mining spiralled downward, pensions disappeared, and high paying working-class jobs dwindled. Social institutions faded. Church attendance decreased, marriage became less common, while men were less likely to find good jobs or even be in the labour market at all.

These trends continue to deepen and spread. Outcomes for non-Hispanic white Americans are expected to worsen.

What Is to Be Done?

If social epidemiologists are correct, illness within a population is shaped, in part, by social dysfunctions or political imbalances such as poor educational opportunities, unemployment or underemployment, lack of access to health care, political dis-empowerment, and a breakdown in social institutions.

Changing current socioeconomic dynamics will take decades to ameliorate. Robust economic and structural policies need articulation addressing deepening white American marginalization.

At a minimum, policies mitigating the negative impacts of globalization and technological change need to include a societal and governmental commitment to:

  • Address and alleviate the negative impact of global trade agreements, especially on regional populations that may be losers in the rush to globalization and open markets.
  • Provide proper job training and retraining, apprenticeships, quality education, and career development to affected areas.
  • Maintain an effective safety net to address problems of unemployment, social dysfunction, nutrition, and mental and physical health.
  • Support access to healthy food, clean water, medical services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, affordable housing, and the rule of law.
  • Address the social, emotional, and reproductive needs of white women who have been disproportionately affected by despair and hopelessness.

Illness in the SDoH paradigm is related to the daily living conditions people endure. Solutions to the Deaths of Despair need to help people maintain and improve their daily living conditions, preserve hope, and live with dignity.

Watch this video to learn more about the Deaths of Despair research.

China, US in dispute over S China Sea ‘incursion’

File photo of a Marine patrol ship “Haixun 31” sails out of the Chinese port of Sanya for the South China Sea, Feb. 28, 2013 [Xinhua]

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has filed a formal complaint with US authorities in protest of a US naval destroyer crossing into territorial waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea near the Xisha Islands.

“China sent military vessels and planes to investigate and identify the US military ship and warned it to leave,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday said at a regular news briefing.

China has been in control of the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracel Islands, since 1974, but announced the the baseline of territorial waters there in 1996.

Beijing says that guided missile destroyer the USS Chafee, entered its territory on Tuesday and carried out “freedom of navigation” maneuvers without Chinese consent.

“China urges the US side to respect Chinese sovereignty and security interests as well as the efforts of regional countries to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hua added.

But US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to US media, said that the Navy does not declare ahead of time its intent to carry out such missions.

They said that the USS Chafee approached to a distant of 30 kms from the islands as part of a US military strategy to “challenge Beijing’s excessive maritime claims”.

The US does not recognize China’s sovereignty over the Xisha Islands and says they are contested by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Beijing claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year. In addition to Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have contesting claims on these waters.

Maritime disputes between China on the one hand and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan on the other have caused tensions in the region and often led to a war of words between Beijing and Washington.

Beijing has long accused Washington of meddling in the South China Sea. The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols near the disputed islands that have angered Beijing.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Xi: Campaign against poverty is ‘toughest battle’

China aims to significantly reduce poverty by 2020 [Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday called the campaign against poverty the “toughest of all battles” and that the country should exert all efforts to eradicate it.

His statement comes ahead of the UN earmarked International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17.

Two weeks ago, Beijing upgraded a new mechanism to help local governments and municipalities target poverty reduction through a 100-point assessment system that measures the efficacy of funds allocated to this pursuit.

How effective the funds have been will be marked out of 62 points; fund allocation is 10 points; supervision of the funds is 20 points and the remaining 8 points covers capital input.

Beijing wants local governments to reach 90 points or more in the new assessment mechanism. Below 60 is considered a failed approach.

The latest success story in the campaign against poverty is east China’s Jiangxi Province where the capital Jinggangshan has now been officially declassified as an impoverished area.

Through a number of local programs such as poverty relief projects and government assistance to start businesses, boosting rural infrastructure and creating employment opportunities for the less privileged, Jinggangshan managed to reduce the number of people living under the poverty line to just 1.6 per cent of the population.

The countrywide standard is two per cent.

According to official figures, there are 55 million people currently living in poverty.

One of the cornerstones of the current National People’s Congress 13th five-year plan is that it aims to significantly reduce poverty by 2020.

Elsewhere in Hunan province, for example, the local government has pledged to repeat its fund allocation from 2016, which helped lift more than a million people out of poverty.

Officials in Hunan, which is located in central China, say they want to eradicate poverty completely by 2019, bringing a total of five million out of poverty since 2014.

The Hunan provincial initiative, mimicked in other provinces such as east China’s Shandong and the southwest’s Sichuan, falls in tandem with the strategies of the National People’s Congress 13th five-year plan.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

How Anxiety, Low Self-Worth may Spark Countless Individuals to Overeat

Two studies confirm that stress is a major underlying factor in the obesity epidemic among the poor. One from Scotland, published in the journal Appetitedocuments the link between overeating and the stress that accompanies income inequality. The other, published in Psychological Science, attempts to explain the link between being raised in poverty and a proclivity to eat in the absence of hunger.

Poverty looks much different in developed countries than in undeveloped and developing countries. On the other side of the world, poverty-stricken children have sunken eyes, and bloated bellies protrude over scrawny sickly legs.

In countries like Africa, bloated bellies come from parasitic worms living in children’s intestines. These parasites use what little food a child is able to scrape together. In places like the United States and the United Kingdom, swollen bellies are often a sign of poverty, but they are caused by obesity rather than parasites.

Obesity has become a massive epidemic among low-income families. Policymakers have consistently tried to tackle the problem by focusing on issues like the cost and availability of healthy foods – and that’s a good thing. However, researchers have increasingly been focusing attention on the emotional needs of people living in poverty, which is an unrelentingly stressful way of life.

The First Study – Environmental Influence on Eating

For the first study researchers recruited 31 women of normal weight to participate in what was they were told was a consumer research study. Each woman received a bowl of chocolate chip cookies and a bowl of pretzels and was told to sample and rate each snack. Then the women were told they were free to eat the leftovers while they waited for the next part of the study to begin.

The participants were then asked to complete a survey about their childhood before the age of 12 and rate their agreement with the following statements:

  • My family had enough money for things growing up.”
  • “I grew up in a relatively wealthy neighborhood.”
  • “I felt relatively wealthy compared to others my age.”

The researchers tallied up their answers and calculated how much each participant had eaten based on the food that remained in the bowls. Among the women who reported feeling hungry, the researchers found no difference in calories consumed between those who grew up in poorer environments and those who were fairly wealthy growing up.

But childhood environment did have an impact on how much the women ate when they weren’t actually hungry. Women who came from more impoverished backgrounds ate more of the cookies and pretzels and consumed more calories overall than those who said they came from wealthier homes.

The Second Study – Impact of Low-Socioeconomic Status

For the second study, Texas Christian University psychologist Sarah Hill and colleagues conducted 3 experiments in which they either measured or manipulated the energy needs of a group of students and then gave them snacks to eat. One group of 60 female undergraduates answered a questionnaire about their family’s socioeconomic status during both childhood and currently.

Half of the students drank a 12 oz. can of Sprite to satisfy their immediate energy need while the other half consumed an equal amount of mineral water. Ten minutes later all of the participants were asked to eat and evaluate cookies.

Students who grew up in wealthier households ate fewer cookies if they had just consumed Sprite, while students who were raised in poorer families ate just as many cookies whether they had consumed the soft drink or the water.

“Among individuals who grew up in high-socioeconomic status environments, food intake varied according to immediate physiological energy need,” the researchers wrote.

“These individuals consumed more calories when their current energy need was high than when it was low.

For individuals who grew up in low-socioeconomic status environments, however, the relationship between physiological need and food intake was decoupled. Their food intake appeared to be guided primarily by opportunity.”

The researchers concluded:

“Feeling poor relative [to] others had a clear effect on calorie consumption” and the overeating was due to “increased anxiety – particularly anxiety due to anticipated negative social evaluation.”

Sadly, it appears the stress came not from worrying about where their next meal or snack would come from, but rather from feeling left-out and believing wealthier people looked down on them.

Unfortunately, just because affordable healthy food is available in poor areas, that doesn’t necessarily mean people of low socioeconomic status will eat it. This is not because of some personality flaw, but because they may lack nutritional information and literally don’t know what foods are healthy or why. Many of these individuals grew up eating whatever cheap food was available, much of it full of sugar, calories, and fat, and may not be accustomed to eating fruits and vegetables.


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