Being incarcerated is associated with many health risks, including poorer mental and physical health, and a greater likelihood of chronic disease. Part of the reason for this is the poor quality of food served in prisons. Prison food is often nutritionally inadequate, and prisoners may not have enough to eat to meet their daily caloric needs.
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This article will take a look at how poor food choices in prison can have lingering effects, even after release.
Poor Nutritional Value
One of the main problems with prison food is that it is often nutritionally inadequate. A typical prison in the United States will serve a diet that is high in calories, but low in essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This can lead to deficiencies that can have serious health consequences.
For example, a lack of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, while a lack of iron can lead to anemia. In addition, prisoners may not be getting enough of the fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients that are important for good health.
Inadequate Calorie Intake
Another problem with prison food is that prisoners may not be getting enough to eat to meet their daily caloric needs. Portion sizes can often be scant.
This is a particular concern for prisoners who are working or engaging in physical activity, as they may need more calories than those who are sedentary. Some prisoners may work on chain gains, fire squads, or other manual labor jobs.
In addition, prisoners may not have access to snacks or other food items that would help them boost their calorie intake.
Inadequate calorie intake can lead to weight loss, fatigue, and other health problems. It can also make it more difficult for prisoners to stay healthy and avoid chronic diseases.
Chronic Disease in Prison
Poor food choices in prison can also lead to obesity and other chronic health problems. A diet that is high in calories and low in nutrients can cause prisoners to gain weight, which can then lead to problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Obesity in a prison setting is also a public health concern because it can lead to larger medical costs and a greater strain on the prison healthcare system. Being overweight is one of the main triggers of diabetes.
Diabetes is a particular concern for prisoners, as it is often undiagnosed and untreated. This can lead to serious health complications, including amputations and blindness.
In addition, the stress of being incarcerated can also lead to chronic diseases like hypertension and depression. Hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Depression is a risk factor for suicide.
Rapid Weight Fluctuation
In addition to obesity, many prisoners may deal with severe weight fluctuations. Such fluctuations occur because prisoners are not getting enough to eat regularly, and they may go for long periods without food. Those in solitary confinement or who are on hunger strike may experience the most extreme weight fluctuations.
Weight fluctuations can have serious health consequences, including electrolyte imbalances which can lead to heart problems. In addition, rapid weight loss can lead to muscle wasting and a weakened immune system.
Effects on Mental Health
Poor nutrition can also have an impact on mental health. For example, a lack of essential nutrients can lead to problems like depression and anxiety. In addition, the stress of being in prison can worsen mental health problems.
Studies have shown that prisoners who are malnourished are more likely to experience anxiety. Prisoners with mental health problems may be more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide. They may also be more likely to have problems with substance abuse.
Poor Nutrition Effects Linger After Release
Even after being released, some prisoners still have lingering effects from the poor quality of food they ate while incarcerated. For example, some former inmates spoke of hoarding food after their release, as they were afraid of not having enough to eat.
Others reported problems with their digestion, as their bodies had trouble adjusting to a diet that was higher in nutrients. Still, others spoke of feeling tired and run down, as their bodies were not used to getting the necessary nutrients.
In conclusion, prison food is a public health problem because it is often nutritionally inadequate and can lead to chronic diseases. In addition, the effects of poor nutrition can linger after someone has left prison.
Poorly nourished prisoners are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, mental health problems, and other health issues once they are back in the general public.