Saturday, June 24, 2006

Being fat & poor: The case of Krispy Kremes

Being fat can be caused by not having enough to eat and by being poor. Budget-constrained people eat a lot of junk food because they are not in a position to make healthy food choices. If they live day-to-day on low incomes they will gravitate to pubs and fast food outlets. This is particularly harmful for children of the poor who come to see potato chips and soft drink as food. Poor parents may not be able to afford to feed kids decent high-nutrient food and may end up providing them with the standard high carbohydrate poisons that leave them obese with the danger of diabetes. People in developed countries without access to adequate food tend to be overweight. Partly this is due to lack of information and opportunity but also MacDonalds is an affordable treat for the poor.

As a junk-food food case study, doughnuts are nutritionally barren. They are high in carbohydrates, fat and salt and contain dangerous transfats. To burn off the calories added by a single plain doughnut you must walk for more than 30 minutes. I’ve never liked doughuts even as ‘treats’ because they taste overly sugary and often seem to be stale. We have better food produce than this in Australia.

The US doughnut producer Krispy Kreme (much beloved by the heroic loser Homer Simpson) has been criticized for worsening obesity in Britain and has now arrived in Australia. An article in The Age (‘Krispy keeps us korpulant’) sets out the nutritional implications of this food and also explains where these stores are locating. Yes, almost all are in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. In Sydney 12 of 16 planned stores are in highly disadvantaged areas ranked 2-13 in the ABS list of 44 metropolitan councils. The first store in Victoria - at Narre Warren – is in the 10th most disadvantaged area in Melbourne.

Junk food enclaves in poor areas will worsen Australian’s future mortality due to obesity and diabetes. They will increase our national health bill and so should be taxed to internalize public sector health cost externalities. Most importantly, people who enter these stores must be provided with accurate information on the crap they are feeding themselves. 3-4 doughnuts can provide 75% of daily required calories, up to 108 grams of sugar and 96 grams of fat. The impact of eating 4 doughnuts with a coke is equivalent to eating 38 teaspoons of refined sugar. This is a plausibly horrific, meal for many kids. Parents and children should be aware of these facts both at the point of sale of such foods and in schools.

It is pointless to ban soft-drinks in schools if school kids can ingest more sugar from legally-supplied junk such as doughnuts. No-one likes the nanny state telling us what to eat but stores such as Krispy Kreme are a social negative. We need to bankrupt them by coupling hefty taxes on the poisons they supply that capture the costs to society of the people they help to damage, by providing consumers wiuth information on the effects of eating such so-called 'food' and by providing consumers with the education and the opportunities to buy non-junk food.


Anonymous said...

While I don't doubt the stylized fact on the relationship between fast food and income, there are two things that concern me:

1. My experience suggests that non-complex food prepared from raw ingredients e.g. meat and vegetables is much cheaper than

a. purchasing processed foods in supermarkets.

b. purchasing takeaway. This would be particularly the case for much greater quantities of takeaway.

If someone has systematically shown this is not the case, then will stand corrected. I have done my own shopping and cooking for many years and my casual belief is that this is the case.

2. However, it does require more planning and it does take more time. But again, if income is correlated with the value of time, then again we shouldn't expect to see this.

3. Finally, all incomes have gone up over time - when people in general were poorer people were thinner (e.g photos from the Depression or even pre WW2 in general) and people grew their supplements to their own food (backyard vegetables or even chooks) etc which is more consistent with what economic theory suggests.

This suggests that it is not income in the strict sense of the word that is the cause here.

An argument that might be made (but do not know enough about the area to make it with confidence) is that the same factors that determine low income also encourage use of fast food/lack of exercise etc. This may have been hidden in the past by more-(physical) labour intensive occupations.

hc said...

anonymous, I think 2. is crucial - gopood food requires more planning which is hard if you have only a small budget and can't buy in bulk. In the depression there was no fast food, no convenience stores.

I've searched the literature on fast food demands and overall demands have slowed - I've seen claims but no proof demands are inferior. But seems plausible.

I like your last point - that poor people may have burnt off calories in the past with work. Now they might be sedentary or collect a dole check.

conrad said...

I agree with the anonymous comment. Junk food, even the cheapest type, is far more expensive in Australia than decent food (particularily if you go to Victoria Market!).

A rather convenient thing which is forgotten in this debate is that being poor is correlated with lots of other things (like low IQ). It isn't difficult to imagine lots of low IQ mothers and fathers out there who simply are not aware of the negative outcomes of the crap they eat (and presumably never will be), let along the difference between types of fats.

Anonymous said...

Hi Harry,

Thank you for your comments on my earlier post. I appreciate your comment on bulk buying. I am not sure how much you mean by bulk buying e.g. using a freezer to store large quantities of meat when on special.

However, I believe that the cheapness of fresh holds even if you are shopping once a week for the week ahead (this was my experience).

I wonder if the costs and benefits of being overweight have changed over time. For many occupations either the work did not permit (e.g. physical labor) or there would have been discrimination by employers against the overweight (implicitly or explicitly). Has the change in employment or else other changes (more generous welfare payments)reduced the personal costs of being overweight?

Anonymous said...

Part II

To clarify my earlier point, I also mean the costs and benefits of being overweight in other activities. For example, greater (or less) availability of services that can cater for the overweight? In addition, maybe medicine has changed so to reduce health costs of excess weight?

Conrad - you have picked up the ball I alluded to though perhaps in a different direction) (intelligence was not specifically what I was thinking of though it is a possibility). I wonder if it is not so much not having information but the wrong sort of information e.g. it is better not to have any discipline about food otherwise your child will end up anorexic!!! or that weight is genetically determined and so not anyone's fault (in a different context, I remember a classmate of mine in high school who told me it was better not to go to university otherwise you would be overqualified to get a job - this myth (or equivalents about eating) is the sort of thing I am thinking of). (Genes may have something to do with it - but I doubt there has been a mass mutation!!!)

pedaller said...

I agree with the previous comments regarding fresh fruit and vegetables being the cheapest food options.
As a household of 3 (including the dog that thinks it is a person), we used to spend an average of $140 a week at the Supermarket. Once we changed over to shopping at Flemington Markets on a Saturday morning, our monthly shopping bill dropped to about $200, and we notice that the fresh food we buy from the markets keeps for much longer than Supermarket bought fresh food.
I would also add that the proliferation of cars as personal transport might have a bearing on the notion of an "obesity epidemic". It isn't just that more people are engaged in more sedentary forms of "work", but that the preferred method of transport to get them to "work" (and to School) is also primarily sedentary. The reduction in daily "incidental exercise" is probably also contributing to our growing waistlines and other associated health issues.

civitas said...

"McDonald's is an affordable traet for the poor"

If this were true, it wouldn't be a problem. A treat is something you indulge in occasionally, not on a daily basis. If it becomes daily, then it's no longer a treat, it's a main source of food. And that's the problem. Everyone can eat crap like McDonald's occasionally, you just cannot eat it every day.

But I find processed food like McDonald's more expensive too. It's fast and that's what people like about it. Not only do you not have to make it yourself, it's available 24 hours a day.

Sam Ward said...

Absolute rubbish Harry.

1. Good food is cheaper than junk food. This is especially true in Australia.

2. The IQ/obesity link is much more important than you think.

3. Obesity is still, and always will be due to lack of exercise rather than diet.

I eat fast food at least 7 times a week and I am in the normal weight range. I aso exercise regularly, play organised sports and limit my eating to when I am actually hungry rather than when I am bored or depressed.

Most males of my age eat a large amount of junk food. They aren't all fat. There are other things at play here.

"stores such as Krispy Kreme are a social negative. We need to bankrupt them by coupling hefty taxes on the poisons they supply"

This is the most disappointing thing I have read on your blog. You seem to believe that you should be the arbiter of what is and is not a social negative. There are plenty of things that I dislike and would like to see go out of business - the difference between you and me is that I accept that people have different preferences and I do not have a right to dictate to others what they can and can not buy or sell.

You sound like a dictator-in-waiting in this post. How many other "social negatives" would be cleansed from the world under a Harry Clarke-led government?

Curing obesity should be at the bottom of a very long list of things that you should be doing to create a better world.

Obesity is self-inflicted, easily cured, and primarily found in people who are too lazy and/or stupid to care about themselves.

Why you would devote time and resources to "curing" what you see as an illness when there are much more problematic and difficult-to-tackle issues out there bewilders me.

"If you are fat and dont want to be fat, stop eating so much, you fat cunt" is the cure for obesity. When we can give the same advice to victims of cancer, asthma, HIV and other actual diseases, maybe you could convince me that we should give a shit about fat people.

hc said...

Nice to hear from you Sam, I'am visiting Perth in September - lets have a beer and a macca's.

Points 1-2. maybe (the earlier comments help sort this out) but why are the poor fat? 3 is half true - weight gain is determined by calories inputed (food) less those used up (exercise) so both factors have an impact. But controlling obesity by exercise is very hard - you have to work hard to have an impact. Food control better.

People who are fat are not necessarily stupid - there are difficult self-control issues here which don't seem to affect you.

Its a social negative because it is contributing to health issues. I am not advocating banning the stuff just informing people of its sugar, fat and calorie content and trying to persuade them not to buy it . I'll stick with that - it is entirely consistent with even a libertarian stance.

Obesity and associated diabetes issues are major public health problems in Australia. About 2 million people have diabestes - by way of contrast HIV is insignificant.

One reason we should 'give a shit' about fat people is that we pay for their health care via the public health scheme. So even weithout being paternalistic there is good reason for concern.

Sam Ward said...

One of these quotes must be wrong then, Harry.

1. "I am not advocating banning the stuff just informing people of its sugar, fat and calorie content and trying to persuade them not to buy it ."

2. "No-one likes the nanny state telling us what to eat but stores such as Krispy Kreme are a social negative. We need to bankrupt them by coupling hefty taxes on the poisons they supply"

Which is your real position?

"People who are fat are not necessarily stupid -"

Not necessarily as such, but I'd be willing to bet than a wide-scale IQ survey would reveal that people who are 40+kg overweight are on average much dumber than those who are in the normal weight range.

"One reason we should 'give a shit' about fat people is that we pay for their health care via the public health scheme."

I have posted many times on this blog that we shouldn't be helping people who aren't interested in helping themselves.

Universal public health cover perpetuates the problem by removing natural incentives to remain healthy.

If you think that taxing alcohol, junk food and gambling is a good way to reduce their effects, then wouldn't simply removing public health cover and relying on private insurance accomplish the same thing?

People who engage in high-risk activities like smoking, overeating and heavy drinking would pay for it by way of higher insurance premiums, which would have the same disincentive affect as sin taxes do.

The difference is that the innocent would not be punished for the crimes (of stupidity) of the guilty.

As an extra bonus, all the other undesirable side effects of universal public health (hypochondria, inefficiency, etc) would be eliminated as well.

And we could also reduce taxes, so those poor people will have more money to buy good quality food with in the first place.

The only problem is that some people will have to take a good hard look at themselves and take responsibility for their own actions. I'm willing to accept that tradeoff.

hc said...

Sam, Both:

The external costs that these harmful products impose should be identified and dealt with by taxes that make the producers bear the social costs imposed.

And people should know the food compositions, the links between excessive consumption of this type of food and diabetes, coronary heart disease and so on.

Generally I think we do pretty well with a public health system that provides universal cover. We have good health status and our medical costs are lower on average than in a more priovate system such as the US.

There are good reasons for not privatising health insurance. One is adverse selection - that clients know their health status better than insurance vendors. This means that bad risk customers cannot get insurance at any premium.

The general point you make concerns the role of paternalism. I generally favour free markets but sometimes they don't work well and I am happy to see the state intervene. Whether the arguments are about drugs, gambling or obesity the same issues arise.

Anonymous said...

Part III

The problem with the IQ story is that if this was the case why has obesity become more widespread - particularly among lower income people - I don't believe there has been a dramatic lowering of IQ. My partner and I were discussing this last night - she points out that since the 1970s there has been a proliferation of fast food restaurants - however, my argument is that these may have replaced other fast food places like fish and chips/hamburgers etc, pub meals. One argument is that as income went up then people could afford to eat fast food more than before - but this doesn't deal with the concentration of obesity phenomenon.

One possible argument - income went up, exercise went down (because of changes in the labour force), people's information (correlated with income) didnt change so that people on low incomes started eating more junk food and people on higher incomes didnt.

Sam Ward said...

Anonymous: There are so many reasons why obesity has increased so much in the last 30 years. Here are just some of them.

* Affordability of cars. Everybody in the developed world can afford a car now. This wasn't always the case.

* Technology improvments meaning that many forms of labour-intensive work have been replaced with sedentary work.

* Socialised Health insurance meaning that people no longer have to pay monetarily for decision that lead to obesity.

* Decreased participation in competitive sports amongst working-age people due to longer working hours.

* Increased incomes and improvements in food packaging and preservation technologies making fast food ubiquitous.

* VCR, DVD, Video gaming, Internet surfing and other new forms of leisure activities replacing traditional forms of entertainment that were more physical (e.g. sports, dancing, outdoor hobbies).

And lots more, etc.

hc said...

Sam, You should have become an academic/analyst not a gambler. These points are perceptive and accurate though based on the energy use viewpoint.

One explanation we (Samantha and I) are looking at is the substitution of carbohydrate-based diets for diets based on protein and fat. We have been taught that meat and fat are bad - they might be but they stabilise appetitive - biscuits and Krispy Kreme don't.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry I am late with my comment but it's the only interesting casus belli Harry has written recently.

I am very interested in the correlation of stupidity (or low IQ to be precise) to obesity.

Let's start with a syllogism. Not all smart people are thin. Not all fat people have low IQ. A good example would be Harry and myself, as both of us could be regarded as overweight, while at the same time we are both of above-average intelligence; well, I certainly am, anyway.

Eating right is connected with the ability to plan and organise, and predict the consequence of one's action, or lack of action (i.e. someone who all of a sudden feels hungry and visits a KFC outlet as a result of feeling hungry, not having previously done anything in anticipation of such an event, can be said not to have planned for a predictable event). The ability to plan could in itself be seen intrinsic to human intelligence.

To sum up, fast food does not require planning. People who are prone to impulsive behaviour, who are not able to plan properly, who are not organised, etc. etc. generally opt for fast food. This applies to families as well as individuals.

Harry's interlocutors here claim that fast food is vastly more expensive than 'good food'. But they miss the point entirely.

Fast food is not more expensive in practice because with fast food you can tailor what you buy to what you eat. Most people tend cook too much because with ab initio with raw ingredients cooking they can't judge how satisfied they are going to be so they err on the side of caution and cook way too much. Also there is a tendency to cook more if you are going to go to a lot of trouble cooking. Consider what happens when you cook for a dinner party. In both instances one ends up with leftovers which are later thrown away after their requisite interlude in the fridge. Nobody notices this because the wastage is not correlated to the act of food preparation; it's an entirely different activity.

With working mothers, and people working a long way away from home, with heavier traffic and less efficient public transport than there used to be, there is less time and less opportunity to spend time cooking from raw ingredients.
Also there is a halfway alternative to take away meals and that is partially prepared meals such frozen, pre-cooked chips, a very fattening product, or frozen pizza.Ditto ditto.

This brings forth another issue: i.e. if fast foods are fattening, why is it so and is necessarily so? This is a very interesting area worthy of dissection on another occasion.

My view on obesity is that living in a Spencerian/Costelloesque meritocracy as we do, the successful people generally tend to have higher IQs (see here an interesting article about social mobility and IQ:<>
and can afford to eat high protein foods, the poor eat high carbo foods, and suffer the consequences.

Play this again Harry and we can get our teeth into this discussion properly.

hc said...

Anonymous, Painful shafts of wit through your first three paragraphs. You come on like a Rabid Turkey.

But after the tirade of abuse you make some good points. There are thinking costs in eating intelligently. Using raw ingredients complicates the evaluation.

Why are junk foods high carb? They are low down on the food chain and cheap? I don't know but sounds like a reasonable hypothesis,

Anonymous said...

I agree and disagree with the points made by the other Anonymous. The point about working mothers not having time to cook is a fair one - and probably a factor in using pre-prepared meals. The point about wastage I am less happy with. Dinner parties are not representative as the cooking is for people that do not eat regularly at a home - and there is undoubtedly waste as it is better for to have too much than too little. But people cooking regularly for themselves are much less likely to waste because:

1. It is a repeated task and if done regularly the cook has a good idea how much people eat and when.
2. Leftovers!
3. If you are really organized (like two households I know, you can cook in bulk and eat over a week or even into the future if frozen).

So unless evidence can be presented that households of similar incomes doing their own cooking systematically spend more
than those living on fast food or pre-prepared food, the point stands.

It is an important point as the question is the explanation of anonymous 2 could in part apply to households of all incomes while the specific concern is for low income households. If fast food is cheaper then there is less of a puzzle and an economic explanation (like the poor eat carbs and the rich protein) can be argued. If it is not cheaper then there is more of a puzzle and less likely that taxes on fat etc are going to affect obesity.

Harry, your work with Sam on the shift from meat to carbs sounds very interesting!

The Original Anonymous

jack said...

I am not Anonymous, I am Jack. I posted this as myself, not hiding behind any cloak of anonymity but your Calumna machinery made me anonymous anyway.

Also, as an aside, I can't see where there's been a tirade of abuse on my part.

But let us cut to the chase. You ask: Why are junk foods high carb?

The answer is that the vast proportion of junk food is heavily laced with sugar or made of sugar. For example, softdrinks and so-called fruit drinks are high in sugar.

Excess carbohydrates are fattening because they get stored away as fat, but if carbo-ruch foods is eaten accompanied by sugary drinks the result is disastrous for anyone trying to keep their weight down.

It works like this. The sugar gets converted into blood sugar straight away, delaying, and ultimately preventing in some individuals, the glycogensis from the carbohydrates, which get stored into fat. The carbos eventually turn into sugar and then fat but the fat is not called upon to do the job it was meant to do as an emergency storehouse of energy, because the individual is hungry long before that -- the moment the sugar from the junk food is used up. Hence obesity.

But after all that I think this is not germane to the discussion.

First of all, you are conflating two concepts: fast food and junk food.

Not all fast foods are junk foods, though most are, and not all junk foods are fast foods. This is not splitting hairs. We are trying to resolve the problem of obesity here, which may or may not be due to increasing numbers among the population eating fast foods.

Althoug eating junk food in addition to fast food has the multiplier effect on obesity, especially with children.

But first things first.

The point we have been making in this thread is about the main meal of the day being too often some form of fast food.

So let's first ask the question, why are fast foods fattening?

Fast foods tend to be fattening because they are, by and large, carbohydrates plus fatty protein cooked in some form of liquid fat.

Fast food is very often accompanied by a sweet soft drink. Problem no. 2, see above. You'll note that the fast food customer service officer will offer to sell you a drink, every time. The profit margin on soft drinks for the establishment is higher than on the food as there is no labour component.

Fast foods are made up of carbos and fat and cooked in more fat as an economic measure by the fast food operator: liquid fat which is being used as a re-heating medium can be kept hot with a minimum amount of energy because fat stores heat very well and it only takes a small amount of energy to bring fat to optimum cooking temperature, so it is cheap for the operator and quick for the customer. That's why we have oil column heaters by the way. And quick is important as a business imperative for the fast food business.

Fat encrusted protein is also tastier than lean protein and cheaper to buy (lean meat is more expensive).

The fast food operator has to maximise his profit by reducing the cooking time, minimising energy use, buying the cheapest ingredients and having the largest customer turnover per unit of labour.

The other side of the equation is that punters prefer fatty carbohydrates because they are more satisfying.

It seems that fast food is contributing to the growing obesity of the citizens.

However the operative word here is "contributing". I believe that this is a multifactorial problem.

Driving cars everywhere instead of catching public transport must contribute to obesity, and its corollary, driving kiddies to school due to fears for their safety and because they can: most people nowadays have two cars in the family. The result is a contributing factor to child obesity.

Public transport requires us to walk part of the way in interchanges and getting to and from the bus/tram stop or the train station. Eliminating all that extra stair climbing and walking eliminates vitally important exercise.

The other factor may be that we are watching so much more television or sitting in front of our computers. With radio you can still move about within earshot, with the PC and TV you're rooted to the spot. Hence we eliminate the last vestiges of activity.

Another factor may be all the labour saving devices we now have and buildings with lifts. We don't chop wood or lug logs or coal. We don't use the hand wringer, we don't climb stairs. See above.

We have heaps more disposable income for snacks and "junk food" including discretionary spending on soft drinks and so-called fruit juices, poppers etc.

Finally, a lot of the prcoessed and packaged foods we use as ingredients in our modern-day cooking to save time, have a high sugar content. Why? because punters prefer the taste of sweetened things. In a relentless competition among the producers for the consumer dollar they have found out that by adding sugar, sweetening the product, the punters will go for them, almost subliminally.

So here are the known knowns. Perhas there are the some unknowns but it is not necessary to factor in the unknowns. It's actually surprising that we are not fatter than we are, when you think about it.

What amuses me Harry, are the rather futile solutions you put up of tinkering with social engineering to deal with just one factor.