Researchers: Lower the paycheck, the bigger the belly

The smaller the paycheck, the bigger the belly, say many researchers who study poverty and obesity.

It might seem like a paradox, but not having enough money for food doesn't mean the poor are skinny. The opposite appears to be true: The lower-income are more likely to be heavy than the well-to-do.

"Obesity is an economic issue," said Cyndi Walter, manager for the California Department of Public Health obesity-prevention program, Project LEAN. Eating well is beyond the reach of many California residents, she said.

It's easy to make the connection in the central San Joaquin Valley. At least 20% of adults in the region live in poverty, and about 30% are obese. Statewide, 13% are poor and 23% are obese, according to U.S. Census data and the 2007 California Health Interview Survey.

Health experts say there is no shortage of reasons why poverty is a predictor for obesity -- even stress and hopelessness could be factors. Overall, it comes down to food options: Poverty not only limits choices, but also can discourage healthy decisions that have little to do with money, they say.

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