Obesity and Deprivation Amplification

Research into the societal factors like food deserts, that enable the obesity epidemic, has also stimulated deep thought on questions that take some pondering. One example is the concept of deprivation amplification, which appears in a three-author paper, described as follows:

It has commonly been suggested that in modern cities individual or household deprivation (for example, low income or education) is amplified by area-level deprivation (for example, lack of jobs or good schools), in ways which damage the health of the poorest and increase health inequalities.

Misery begets misery, and misfortune tends to multiply. As the old saying goes, “The rich get richer, and the poor get children.” Not that children are miserable misfortunes, but they do tend to complicate life on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. A single mother might have to make a choice between losing her job or leaving a sick child home alone, which could lead to a criminal neglect charge and losing not only her job, but her child and her freedom.

Poor people have a lot of problems that exacerbate one another in a vicious cycle. They have other things on their minds, besides comparison-shopping for avocados, or attending night classes about nutrition.

And then again, sometimes, they don’t. The Discussion section of the paper says,

Our findings on the distribution of resources in Glasgow City in 2005–2006 do not support a model of deprivation amplification, by which areas with poorer people are consistently more poorly served by public and private facilities. Rather they support a more differentiated model by which some resources are equally accessible to residents across a range of deprivation, some are more prevalent in and nearer to more affluent areas, and some are more prevalent in and nearer to more deprived areas.

“Differentiated model” is another way of saying that everybody is different, and every place is different, and so are ethnic cultures and historical eras. The concept of deprivation amplification is not abandoned, but seen as including more complications and nuances than were originally suspected.

People from deprived backgrounds create heroic achievements all the time. Although the subject of this research was a city in Scotland, it also mentioned America:

It is likely that the patterns of racial residential segregation found in the USA may explain the differences between the USA and other nations in the extent of deprivation amplification in poor areas […] although the earlier USA studies […] still point to a more differentiated picture even in the USA.

So, race is also a factor. Complicated and nuanced, right? It gets even more so, as the researchers float the idea that any given resource can be health promoting and health damaging, both at the same time…

[…] for example, proximity to a bus stop might be health promoting in facilitating access to employment or education and increasing levels of walking, but might be health damaging in producing diesel fumes, traffic noise, disturbance from passengers getting on or off buses, and pedestrian or cycling accidents. Vacant and derelict land may look threatening and stressful to some residents, but provide opportunities for outdoor physical activity for children or young males.

The point being, once again, what has been said in so many different ways — obesity really is multifactorial.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Do poorer people have poorer access to local resources and facilities?…,” ScienceDirect.com, September 2008
Photo credit: kaima on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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