Nutritional Disparities Continue to Plague Our Nation’s Vulnerable

Nutritional Disparities Continue to Plague Our Nation’s Vulnerable

January 8, 2021

As discussions about racial justice and inequality continue to pervade public discourse, one issue remains relatively overlooked: Affordable access to healthy food.

Nutritional disparities among communities of color in the United States have become a growing point of concern for public health officials in recent years. If we hope to dismantle the health and socioeconomic barriers that prevent so many Americans from thriving, providing the tools they need to adopt a nutritious diet is an important place to start.

Consider that just one-fifth of Black Americans eat fruits and vegetables at least five times a day — the minimum amount recommended by the USDA to maintain a healthy diet. As a result, Black Americans are 43 percent less likely than their White counterparts to meet the USDA’s fruit and vegetable guidelines. Meanwhile Hispanics are roughly 5 percent less likely.

Lower incomes play a significant role in preventing a healthy diet, according to research from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. This poses a particular problem for members of communities of color, who are more likely than non-minorities to suffer from poverty.

Indeed, Hispanics living in the United States are twice as likely to live below the poverty line compared to non-Hispanic Whites. And over 15 percent of all Hispanic Americans currently live in poverty, while nearly one-fifth of all Black Americans have household incomes below the poverty line. For non-Hispanic Whites, that rate was less than half that of either minority group — roughly 7 percent.

Unfortunately, many lower-income minority communities double as so-called “food deserts” — areas with scarce access to affordable and nutritious food. Nationwide, there are 30 percent more non-White Americans with limited access to food retail relative to White Americans.

Taken together, these socioeconomic barriers to nutrition have a direct impact on minority health. Hispanics suffer from obesity at a rate 7 percent greater than that of White Americans. For Black Americans, that number is roughly 15 percent.

Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease in Black men carries a mortality rate nearly two times as great as it does for White men. Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from the disease compared to White women. Roughly half of all disabilities and death from cardiovascular disease can be attributed to a poor diet.

It is imperative that lawmakers look for solutions that can reduce these inequalities and, in turn, improve the health of minority Americans. This starts with prioritizing nutritional education, improving the quality of school-provided lunches and tackling the socioeconomic disparities that prevent minority Americans from living in areas with adequate access to healthy food.

In so doing, we can improve both the quality and longevity of the lives of millions. That’s a cause worth fighting for.