Nutrition and Malnutrition

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Nutrition and Malnutrition

by The Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE)

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 7, No. 2, March 1975, p. 29 – 31

The Poor and Malnutrition 

Rising food prices affect the poor disproportionately because they must spend a larger portion of their income on food than do higher-income families.1 Rising food prices also hurt the poor in another way: poor families in the United States are much more likely than higher-income families to have an inadequate diet. When prices rise, more and more of the poor face the risk of malnutrition.2

For example, a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 63% of families with incomes under $3,000 had inadequate diets compared to 37 per cent of families with incomes of $10,000 or more. These results are shown in the first table.3

Malnutrition, although not limited to the poor, is highly concentrated among those with lower incomes. And these findings are true despite the fact that the· poor generally buy more nutritious food with their food dollar than do the more affluent.4

Good Diets[a] Poor Diets[b]
Under $3,000 37 63
$3,000–$4,999 43 57
$5,000–$6,999 53 47
$7,000–$9,999 56 44
$10,000 and Over 63 37


  1. Net Recommended Dietary Allowances for 7 Nutrients 
  2. Had Less Than ⅔ Allowance for 1–7 Nutrients 

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 

The Affluent Have Nutrition Problems, Too 

More generally, millions of Americans are overweight or have high blood pressure as a result of improper diets. And the situation is getting worse. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the U.S. Department of Agriculture both have noted a deterioration in the nutritional quality of food in recent years.5 Combined with inflation this means that we are all getting far less for our food dollar. As a result:

  • High cholesterol saturated fats and excess ries in our diet make heart disease the cause of over half of America’s annual deaths.
  • More than 20 per cent of Americans are obese, and overweight people have shorter life expectancies than others.
  • Tooth decay from too much sugar leaves 18 out of every 100 adult Americans toothless.
  • Some have argued that poor diets are an important factor in at least 123,000 or 40 per cent of the annual deaths from cancer.6 

Most of these situations result from eating the wrong things. Snacks, soft drinks and processed foods devoid of nutrients are rapidly replacing fruits, vegetables, and other traditional foods. For example, milk drinking went down 20 per cent between 1959 and 1970, while soft drink consumption went up 79 per cent.7

Similarly, sales of candy and gum increased by one billion dollars between 1961 and 1970.8 Beer consumption increased by 22 per cent between 1963 and 1970.9 One quarter of the money spent in retail food stores now goes to carbonated beverages, confectionary, processed meats, frozen. desserts, and baked goods.10

What does all this mean for our health?

  • These shifts are responsible for the growing ciencies of vitamin A and D and calcium which USDA surveys have documented.11
  • Since 1945, while per capita income has soared the consumption of most nutrients has decreased. We spend more on food but are actually getting less nutritional value from it. 
  • Alcoholic beverages, sugar, fats and oils added to foods instead of nutrients now make up 43.3 per cent of adult caloric intake, an increase since 1909 when the proportion of total intake from fats was only 32 per cent.
  • Total calorie intake, which had declined 11 per cent between 1909 and 1965, rose by 5 per cent between 1965 and 1972.12 

In short, these trends intensify our national problems of obesity, heart attacks, and other diseases which can develop as a result of nutritional deficiencies. 

Why Is Our Food Less Healthy?

As our food becomes less nutritious, dangerous cals are put into it. These poisons get added to our food in increasing quantities for a variety of reasons, all having to do with the profits of the corporations which control the sources of the food we eat.

  • When the Bank of America and Dupont go into cattle raising, they are going to make sure that their cattle will produce tender, fat-laced meat. They therefore spend their capital on techniques to produce this kind of highly marketable duct. Thus, there has developed a new stage in meat processing — the feed lot. At a certain stage in their growth, cattle are shipped from ranches to feed lots where they are fed for slaughter, their basic diets of grain and natural protein being highly supplemented with different kinds of drugs and chemicals to make them fatter in a shorter period of time. Over the last twenty years, 2700 different drug additives have been put into our meat for just these reasons. This way of preparing cattle for marketing is more profitable than the more traditional way of sending the cattle directly to the slaughterhouse, and gives the large corporate-owned ranches control over the market. This means that it is virtually impossible to buy meat in a supermarket which has not been supplemented with chemicals — and for which we are paying higher and higher prices.13,14 
  • When growers have enough acreage or enough labor problems to make mechanized harvesting more profitable, perishable produce has to be prepared for picking and packing by machines. Tomatoes, strawberries, tart cherries and asparagus have been laced with carcinogenic (cancer-producing) substances to prepare them for the steel grasp of mechanical harvesters. And, of course, producing food for profit instead of health and full nutritional value means that pestiticides are used profusely.15 And consequently the land, which can never be allowed to rest, comes mineral poor. 
  • When big companies develop a product to sell across the country, they need a marketing gimmick to compete with similar products which are already on the market. One such gimmick has been the dyeing of foods in bright, garish colors. The Purple dye “Violet No. 1,” never tested for cancer effects but proved to cause skin lessions in dogs, was one of the soda pop, frosting, ice cream and candy brighteners which gave our foods market appeal for 23 years before it was finally banned in April of 1973.16

Why isn’t the federal government more responsive to findings on the effects of these drugs which are put into our food for the sake of increased profits? From whom does the Food and Drug Administration take its counsel? It mainly listens to the drug companies themselves, to scientists working in places like the Nutrition Foundation, whose Board of Trustees is a “Who’s Who of the Food Industry”, and to schools of public health which draw on large gifts from the food industry to finance their nutrition departments. Not surprisingly, these experts give advice to the government which reflects their concerns about the potential impact of consumer-protection legislation on corporate profits. Their public mandate to protect consumer interests is buried.


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  1. A study by the BLS in autumn 1972 found that low-income families spend 34 per cent of their budgets on food while middle income families spent 30 percent and those with high incomes 27 percent. See U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Autumn 1972 Urban Family Budgets and Comparative Indexes for Selected Urban Areas,” June 15, 1973. Official definitions of poverty differ somewhat from the looser usage of the terms in this section. A family of four with an annual income under $4278 is considered “poor” by the government. The data cited here do not compare the diets of those above and below the “poverty line” directly.
  2. Ed. note: Under-nutrition (i.e., an insufficient caloric intake) is a usual concomitant.
  3. See U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Household Food Consumption Survey 1965-66. According to the USDA, a good diet is based on achieving the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for several major nutrients: protein, calcium, iron, Vitamin A, Thiamine (the B vitamins), Riboflavin, and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
  4. See Household Food Consumption Survey 1965–66, Reports #1 and #6, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural search Institute, Spring 1965 (Washington, D.C.).
  5. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare, Ten State Nutrition Survey 1968-1970 (1972); U.S.D.A., Dietary Levels of Households in the U.S., 1965 (1969).
  6. Beverly Moore, “The Food Industry: Profits and the Public Interest,” paper presented at the World-Wide Food lem Conference, New York City, Nov. 9, 1973.
  7. See USDA, Food Consumption, Prices, Expenditures, 1966, 1971 Supplement; Araujo and Mayer, The Staff of Life: The Nutritional Quality of Foods, Massachusetts Consumer Council, 1972, pp. 26-33; and USDA, Food Consumption in Households in the U.S., Spring 1965 (1968), p. 203, from which the following additional examples of changes in consumption have been derived: 

    CHANGES 1945–1971 

    Dairy products 

    excluding butter            -21.1%
    fluid milk & cream        -35%

    Fruits, melons                         -22.5%

    Vegetables                               -23.6%

    Sweet potatoes                        -70.8%

    CHANGES 1955–1965 

    Unenriched bakery products +67%

    Potato chips                               +85%

    Fruit punches                            +750%

    Ice cream +29%

  8. Supermarketing, September 1971, pp. 59, 60.
  9. Soft Drink Industry Manual, 5th edition, 1971-1972, pp. 62–64.
  10. Hughes, “The Future of Chemical Additives in Foods,” Chemical Engineering News, August 23, 1971, p. 19.
  11. Parrish, “Implications of Changing Food Habits for tional Educators,” Journal of Nutritional Education, Spring 1971, pp. 140–142.
  12. Food Consumption, op. cit., p. 94; National Food Situation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 1972, p. 26.
  13. Food Consumption, op. cit., p. 94; National Food Situation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 1972, p. 26.
  14. Daniel Zwerdling, “Drugs in the Meat Industry,” Ramparts, 1973
  15. Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, Agribusiness Accountability Project, pp. 8–9.
  16. Center for Science in the Public Interest Newsletter, Spring 1973, Vol. 3, #2, p. 1.