Fast Food Nation: Homelessness Creates Obesity

The image of hunger simmering in our consciousness by international relief agencies has been a picture of an impoverished child with a bloated stomach in some faraway nation that we can barely find on the map.

That sad photo of hunger, however, does not accurately reflect America's hungry population, particularly among the homeless.

A recent study by researchers from Harvard and Oxford reveal an almost paradoxical conclusion: One third of America's homeless population is obese.

How can people struggling with an impoverished life on the streets, not even knowing when or where their next meal will be, also battle with obesity? How can hungry homeless people be fat?

Doesn't overweight homeless Americans reinforce the perspective that some people within the homeless population are just lazy, and really not hurting, let alone hungry?

In today's health-conscious American society, extra weight on your body does not always signify extra money in your wallet. Being overweight is not a reflection of wealth. In fact, the opposite is sometimes more true.

Where do the over-priced, extremely healthy boutique grocery stores, like Whole Foods Market, build their stores? In the more expensive neighborhoods in town. And who shops at these stores? Skinny people with fat wallets.

Sure, there are overweight Americans with similarly overweight bank accounts, but for more and more people obesity is becoming a common factor for impoverished Americans.

Americans with very little income cannot afford healthy Whole Foods Market, so they resort to cheap food high on carbs but low on nutrition or frequent fast food restaurants with their 99 cent menus of products containing 99,000 calories.

And for those homeless Americans who struggle with extreme poverty, the barriers called depression, sleep deprivation, and stress just exacerbate the fight to stay physically healthy.

No wonder why more and more homeless Americans are becoming obese. They have no money for healthy food, and struggle with homeless living conditions that just make life worse.

I think the world of homelessness really needs the help of Richard Simmons, that quirky, sometimes obnoxious, but amazingly motivating health guru, to redesign the dinner menus of homeless shelters and train struggling Americans to live healthy lives while still possessing skinny wallets.

So while we, who work to house homeless Americans, would preach, "Say, farewell to the streets," Simmons would preach, "Say, farewell to fat."

Both messages are important.