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Circular and Cumulative Poverty

Nutrition, to me, is one of the most important foundations to a

sustainable lifestyle. It is also one the strongest influences of inescapable
poverty. Poverty is not a transparent subject though. There is no one cause
and no one solution. The mechanics of poverty are circular in nature, feeding
into itself and never ending. We see this cycle of poverty within the
dynamics of Gunnar Myrdals circular and cumulative causation theory. In
this paper, I will breakdown the involvement of nutrition into the theory of
circular and cumulative causation (CCC).
For four years the concept of the cycle of poverty has been reinforced
to me by figures, first hand accounts, and political conversation. Four years
after its introduction, it has become the cornerstone to everything I know as
vulnerability. To clarify, the cycle of poverty is a reinforced cycle of lack of
opportunity for at least three generations. That is, you are born into a
situation of poverty, where you lack education, therefore unable to get a
sustainable job, have a large family that you cannot provide for and
generations later are in the same circumstances. The only way to break the
cycle is to improve the social capital of yourself from an outside source.

Circular and cumulative causation, introduced to us by Gunnar

Myrdal, is a concept explained as an deviated linear process that variables
can take. A. Allen Schmid explains this as an initial change in the
independent variable and the dependent variable, whereby the dependent
variable in turn causes a change in the formerly independent variable in the
same direction as the initial movement (Schmid, 112). Further, the initial
shift on the variables will continue to affect each other indefinitely until an
outside source interrupts the process. There are many similarities in the
cycle of poverty inside CCC.
To illustrate, the situation begins with the American lower class. This
lower class has low socioeconomic status and is targeted by fast food chains
due to the access of cheap food. The less privileged are attracted or
influences to buy unhealthier food due to access and cost. The business of
the fast food chain grows and expands their reach, making supermarkets less
profitable and less likely to be established in these areas. Because of this,
options are few and these vulnerable populations begin to become obese due
to a lack in proper diet. This makes them less physically able work
proficiently, giving them other health problems preventing them to go to
work or school. Shame of their figures and discouragement from
advertisements places them at a disadvantage within society. Their

discouragement reinforces their disadvantage and they continue with their

poor dieting, furthering themselves into poverty, then pulling future
members and family into it as well.
I recognize the similarities between the two concepts primarily due to
the mirror of continuation without fail unless stopped from an outside
source. Within circular and cumulative causation, the way out can only be
avoided by explicit collective action (Schmid, 112). This can be seen within
the cycle of poverty as policy as well as free programs to encourage job
search and change in lifestyle.
In CCC, what advances the process is feedback, reinforcement, and
amplifiers from a third party (Schmid, 112). In the example provided by
Schmid, African American discrimination was determined by the white
population. They discriminated first, lowering the socioeconomic
opportunities of the black population, and then using this as their
justification that they were at fault for their own status.
For the cycle of poverty, it was much more difficult to place the
blame. A common political and social talking point is if the poor are
misfortune due to society or if it is their own fault. I believe most, no matter
the socioeconomic status, are products of their environment, including
vulnerable populations. The environment of those stuck in cycle of poverty

includes lack of opportunity and their distrust of the system. Their

environment includes daily feedback, reinforcement, and amplifiers from
other demographics and statuses, which Schmid claims in the powerhouse
behind CCC (Schmid, 112).
For feedback, vulnerable populations hear the opinion that it is indeed
their fault that they are in the situation that they are in. People dont want
to help the helpless and it is highly discouraging to their effort. Because of
the lack of faith in themselves, people continue their unhealthy lifestyles and
do not have hope for change. There may also be feedback in the shame
some feel by using food stamps. Although there are policies to try to change
the use of paper food stamps, it has not reached all and to use a food stamp
in public just emphasizes the gap between the privileged and the
Reinforcement is seen within the poverty cycle by advertisements of
normal. This can include the normal families income, and physical
appearance. Media marketing aims for the population of middle class
families with enough to spend on luxuries. Typically we see a white family,
with two kids, walking hand in hand into their beachside resort. We rarely
see a mixed racial family, or an overweight family in advertisements for
everyday items. This reinforces the fact that these low socioeconomic

families are different and not important within the community. This also
further encourages staying complacent with a persons circumstances.
A huge beneficiary to the poverty cycle is the amplifier of fast food
chains. These chains amplify low socioeconomic status by encouraging
unhealthy food consumption, progressing the obesity of the community,
therefore making it hard for people to be competitive in the workforce.
Without a competitive nature and a physical ability to pull yourself from the
cycles, it promotes the original poverty experienced. Because of the success
of fast food in these areas, we can see the existence of food deserts. Food
deserts are areas where there is a lack of food within an acceptable distance
from where you reside. An example is that a town may have many fast food
restaurants but no supermarket for a long distance, making it easier to just
eat out rather than travel the distance.
To demonstrate how nutrition is connected to the poverty cycle, I
compared poverty statistics to obesity statistics. To no surprise, they mirror
each other closely. According to the National Center for Law and Economic
Justice, there is a clear difference in percentage of poor population among
demographics. For example, 9.7% of whites live in poverty while nearly a
25% of Hispanics live in poverty and 27.2% of blacks do (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2015). Now, compare that to the demographics of the obese

populations within the country. We see that blacks have the highest ageadjusted rates of obesity(47.8%). After that is the Hispanic population at
(42.5%) than whites at 32.6% (CDC, 2015). The echo of poor nutritional
status is heard clearly in poverty cycle.
Interpreting these results, I would conclude that being having low
socioeconomic status is in direct relation to having poor nutrition and being
obese. Because of this poor nutrition, it makes these populations fall into, or
deeper, into the cycle of poverty. The cycle of poverty clearly fits into CCC
due to the presence of cultural feedback, reinforcement, and amplifiers. I
also see how the cycle of poverty, as well as CCC, can only be stopped or
altered by an outside source. For the cycle of poverty, I believe access and
affordability has much to do with being a solution but also importantly,
encouragement and passion are just as important. Without self confidence, a
population will feel that changing their lifestyle will make no difference,
when in fact it might.
With the case of black discrimination in this country, it took a
full rebellion to change the face of racism within the country. Since then, I
believe our country has bettered itself and has learned the consequences of
hindering people. Before we force ourselves into a corner with those caught
in the cycle of poverty I encourage the state of nutrition in our country be

carefully examined and fixed Encourage diet and exercise, particular to

those of vulnerable populations and we may see the reversal of the CCC
within the cycle of poverty. We could see more enthusiasm, better turnover
rates, higher rates of involvement, and overall greater social capital within
our community with a simple change in consumption patterns and care for
those plagued by their unhealthy environment.


CDC. "Adult Obesity Facts." Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Sept. 2015. Web.
28 Sept. 2015.

Schmid, A. Allan. Conflict and Cooperation: Institutional and

Behavioral Economics. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

U.S. Census Bureau. "Poverty in the United States: A Snapshot."

Poverty in the United States: A Snapshot. NCLEJ, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.