Let’s take a look at one quote from the aforementioned Paducah Sun article:
Actual studies of “the poor” have found their intake of the necessary nutrients to be no less than that of others. In fact, obesity is slightly more prevalent among low-income people.
Thomas Sowell makes two claims here:
1) Studies of “the poor” show these people take in about the same nutrients as “the non-poor;” and
2) Low income people have a slightly more prevalent incidence of obesity.
You’ll remember this for the last post on Law, Rhetoric, & Debate.
Let’s look at claim 2 first. This claim, by itself is true. Obesity does occur more often in low income people, families, and communities. There are a number of reasons for this. First, healthy foods are often more expensive than their frozen or dried counterparts. Low income families may find it much easier to purchase a can of spaghetti than to prepare a fresh marinara sauce with whole wheat pasta. Second, and this is simply from observational research, many grocery stores in low income areas are often poorly stocked in fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention low sodium and low fat items. Where mobility may be a concern (i.e., an irregular public transportation schedule, an unreliable car, or ailment that prevents walking more than a few blocks), the fancier stores of the suburbs or the nicer Safeway/Giant/Bloom on the other side of town may be out of reach. There are other issues at play of course, but low income communities are often in a difficult place respective to their ability to find healthy food.
Claim 1 seems dubious as Sowell fails to cite any studies nor does he define “the poor” or “nutrients.” It’s quite unclear what or about whom he is writing.
Nutrients as defined by Whitney and Rolfes (2005, p. 6) in Understanding Nutrition define nutrients as chemicals that an organism needs to live and grow or substances used in an organism’s metabolism which must be taken in from its environment. That’s an accurate if not broad definition that probably doesn’t help shed much light on what Sowell is writing. So, we’re left with this floating claim that doesn’t have much context nor are there warrants to support the claim made.
Sowell would argue, or so it seems, claim 2 supports claim 1 and is, in fact, the warrant for claim 1. The problem with this is that obesity is not an indicator of receiving the appropriate nutrients. In fact, it can be an indication of quite the opposite. Sowell asks us to imagine the overweight person and ask ourselves, “How could someone who is overweight lack nutrients?” This thinking is wrong and doesn’t hold up to basic nutritional science nor common sense grocery store science. Sowell has equated being fat, heavy, overweight, with receiving one’s nutrients. This sort of thinking was popular in Europe during the monarchies that spanned hundreds of years where the king or queen has access to the lion’s share of food and could gorge themselves on five turkey legs, four potatoes, three ears of corn, two tankards of mead, and a partridge in a pear tree. Heft, weight, was a sign of royal vitality (clogged arteries weren’t table talk during these formative years). A fat ruler was a strong ruler, even if the fat label was sometimes used to chide (Charles the Fat anyone?). But, more recently, we’ve learned that being hefty is not a sign of power nor should we laude it as virtue.
Sowell should check his research and tackle some of the leading nutrition literature studied and written by the doctors, nurses, dietitians, and researchers in the field of health science before equating a higher risk of obesity with receiving one’s nutrients.