But like so many health issues in this country (smoking, for one example), [obesity] has the worst impact among poor Americans, especially African Americans and Hispanic Americans. (p. 11)Lots to address in so short a passage. First, a big reason why the poor disproportionately smoke is because local, state, and the federal government have levied excise taxes on cigarettes, a policy Spurlock and his ilk generally support. According to the Congressional Budget Office, such taxes do encourage people to quit, but the people who do quit tend to be higher-income, leaving a greater percentage of smokers in lower income brackets. Government efforts to discourage smoking, then, don't alleviate the black-white, rich-poor smoking gap, they make it worse.
As for the "obesity gap" between rich and poor, it simply isn't true, particularly over the last thirty years. It is upper income people who have gained the most weight since the mid-1970s. This data from a University of Iowa study released just about a month ago:
Percent Increase in Obesity Rates Since 1971:Obesity rates are similar across all income groups now, with the poorest quarter just 5.7% more obese than the richest.
Less than $25,000: increase of 144%
$25,000-$40,000: increase of 194%
$40,000-$60,000: increase of 209%
More than $60,000: increase of 276%
Also, don't forget that this information comes from government surveys, which use BMI. So view eventthese statistics through your BMI BS-o-meter.
As for differences with respect to race, Paul Campos has pointed out that epidemiology tables show African Americans and Hispanics (particularly women) tend to be healthier at a weight 10-15 pounds heavier than white women. There are also cultural differences at play here that have nothing to do with evil Big Food. Black men, for example, don't put the premium on thinness in women that white men do. So black women tend to be heavier. As Campos notes:
Several studies have suggested that African American and Hispanic girls tend to have much more positive body images than white girls. For example, one University of Arizona study found that, while only 10% of the white teenage girls surveyed were happy with their bodies, 70% of the black teenage girls were happy with theirs (the black girls weighed more, on average, than the white girls). Is it a coincidence that black women are both far less obsessed with weight than white women, and seem to suffer no significant ill health effects from even extreme levels of fatness? Researchers have been unable to find a relationship between increased mortality and body mass even among African American women who are classified as “morbidly obese.”Drawing Campos out a bit, to the extent that there is an emerging obesity gap on racial lines, it doesn't appear to be affecting mortality rates. Black men are closing the gap with white men when it comes to life expectancy, and black women are closing the gap with white women. All the while, however, blacks are getting disproporationately heavier than whites.
That's at least suggestive that obesity isn't the death-knell people like Spurlock have made it out to be, isn't it?