The news: You'll never look at strained carrots the same way again. A study from the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has found that children of the "1%" are eating far better than their low-income peers. Unfortunately, the gap in quality is far greater than the difference between organic foodstuffs and their corner-store counterparts.
Specifically, the researchers noted that poor households fed babies with foods containing far more sugars, up to and including candy, ice cream and soda.
"We found that differences in dietary habits start very early," lead author Xiaozhong Wen told the Washington Post. "The extent to which lower socioeconomic classes are associated with unhealthy infant dietary patterns is substantial."
In other words, poor infants tend to have drastically inferior diets, which can translate to years, or even decades, of poor diet and health problems.
This poses a serious health crisis. As the Washington Post noted, "the immediate danger resulting from poor infant diets is early weight gain and stunted growth."
More important, these poor dietary habits follow low-income infants for the rest of their lives. Earlier this year, Harvard University study found that the diets of the wealthy have improved in quality and health consciousness over the past decade, while those of the poor have declined sharply.
According to Frank Hu, lead author of the Harvard study, this is unacceptable. He told the Atlantic that this disparity "presents a serious challenge to our society as a whole," and that "after the financial crisis, the top one percent is doing very well — actually doing better, but the people in low socioeconomic groups are doing worse."
To put it simply: From birth, rich people eat well and become healthier. Poor people eat junk and become obese and unhealthy.
It's no wonder that in 2013, a Gallup poll linked low incomes with obesity.
One of the biggest contributing factors to this problem are "food deserts," places where nutritious food cannot be obtained easily and which are almost always located in low-income areas. As the poll shows, 30% of people in food deserts are obese. Still, over a quarter of low-income people who live in areas with access to better food are obese because of the healthy eating hurdles faced by the poor.
And of course, obesity can ruin a person's health through health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, one of America's top killers. A study published in the Journal of Public Health last year estimated that obesity was behind 18% of the deaths in the United States each year, and the World Health Organization estimates that obesity kills 3.4 million adults annually.
The takeaway: Obesity is ravaging the ranks of the underprivileged, and it's overburdening taxpayers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that obesity cost taxpayers $147 billion in 2008 alone. The correlation between income and health doesn't just end with diet, either. As the Atlantic reported, people with higher incomes tend to exercise more since their lives are more stable and secure.
But for now, we're stuck with this horrific cycle: Poor people feed their babies unhealthy food, those babies grow up and continue to eat unhealthy food and inevitably develop diabetes and heart problems.
While this doesn't seem likely to change, some people are trying to solve the problem. In 2011, Baltimore started letting its denizens order from digital farmer's markets with library computers and pick up their food the next day at the same library. And there are healthy food carts being pushed in cities around the country in order to bring some fruits and vegetables into the land of bodegas and liquor stores.
But until one rolls into your neighborhood, remember to hold off on feeding your baby that candy bar.