Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Socio-economic Reasons Behind Obesity and Responses From Readers


Alternet.org has an interesting take on the obesity epidemic in the U.S. They look at it from a genetic, body image, socio-economic and class perspective. While I don't know if I agree with the body image take and study after study has shown that genetics play a limited role in obesity/overweight issues, the socio-economic/class issues really hit home.

Just from personal experience it can be very expensive to eat healthily. If you're poor or on a fixed income you just don't have the money to shop at Whole Foods. And fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean meats are EXPENSIVE. Here is a bit of the article:

It's not as if we don't have the evidence that these factors -- culture, class, education, genetics -- matter. Yet another study just came out by University of Washington researchers who found gaping disparities in obesity rates among ZIP codes in the Seattle area. Every $100,000 in median home value for a ZIP code corresponded with a 2 percent drop in obesity.

Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW Center for Obesity Research, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,"If you have this mind-set that obesity has to do with the individual alone, then ZIP codes or areas really should not come into this. But they do, big-time."

This is not to say that individual behavior doesn't play a vital role in our country's obesity rate, but we too often neglect to think about the cultural and institutional influences on a person's behavior when it comes to eating and exercise.

You would never look at a working class, single mother driving a jalopy with three kids crawling around in the back and say, "Gees, what's her problem? Why can't she drive the Lexus hybrid like me?" You understand that she doesn't have the means, and furthermore, probably doesn't have the peer influence that would make it seem like a viable option.

In the comments section of the article a working mom comments about the class aspect of weight loss and healthy eating:

Most interesting, this article. I am a working-class single mother
who, until very recently, worked two jobs, six days a week, and
could only squeeze in one weekend afternoon (after work) a
swim at my local "Y". I worked out for three years, and made
much progress on my physique, but also note that without a
car, I was not able to work out more often.
Two years ago, I was suddenly diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, had to move to a smaller residence (where I now live
alone, my kids are now grown), and cope with my new illness
as best as I could living on S.S.I.
What I've discovered that compared to my previous working life, I now had time to focus on physical health, learn to be
able to pamper myself, and eat healthier than I used to.
What I've also discovered is it takes a lot of work to eat
healthier, as I've noted, you can't keep a head of lettuce
(or any produce, for that matter) for a week in your fridge.
In order to be able to just keep up a regimen of healthy eating, you have to shop several times a week to keep
fresh fruits and vegetables available for most every meal.
There is no way on God's earth with the kind of grueling
schedule I used to keep that I could have the luxury of
sashaying off to my local health food produce store to
keep fresh food on hand as I can now that I no longer am
working.

Other readers make an excellent point that the article actually misses and that's the role of Big Food, Big Agriculture and Big Government play in the obesity issues that face the US:

However, what is missing here is some discussion of the effects of industrial farming practices on the nutritional content/value of the food we buy and eat every day. And the preservation of the integrity of the soil. [This is not the place for organics-fans, vegetarians and vegans to insert a statement of how clever they are to buy organic: this problem is much bigger than your adorable little consumer habits. Call me hostile, but it would be a real break if the solipsists could just peek above their personal horizons for a brief moment to look at the bigger picture.]

We cannot continue to extract our food by the brutal forces we apply in crop farming, animal farming, food marketing, artificial this and Bt that, terminator seeds a third, and still expect to preserve the integrity of our food and our environment. It's gradually becoming clearer to the brighter lights among us that despite the vast amounts of food consumed by many here in the West, that people are actually still hungry, that no amount of this nutritionally empty industrially produced food laced with hunger-generating hormones will satisfy.

And another

...check out the labels on some common foods and condiments (ketchup, worcestershire sauce, etc.). these days it is difficult to find a prepared food that does not include the ingredient "high fructose corn syrup". this is not a naturally occurring additive - it is highly processed and has no nutritional value. in fact, it is very likely a health hazard. even bread products now have this as one of the main ingredients. i challenge you to look at the list of ingredients next time you go to buy bread. asking people to give up carbohydrates entirely is absurd, but even food that is not considered "carb" contains this ingredient. it is entirely for the profit of the manufacturers that this is in our diet, and its inclusion probably contributes to the problem of weight with which many of us struggle. obesity in america has many underlying causes. let's not forget that seemingly innocent foods can be as much a part of that as the trend over the past several years to make servings at restaurants and take-away food merchants enormous. some responsibility has to be laid at the feet of the purveyors.

I think what the article and the comments show is that the obesity issue in this country is no where near as simple as "Just take personal responsibility for your behavior and choices." While that is a part of it there are also a lot of entities working to make SURE you overeat. I think you have to look at the whole picture and understand ALL the FACTORS involved regarding weight and food in America to best devise a strategy to lose the weight and live a healthier life.

To read the rest of How to Address Obesity in a Fat-Phobic Society click on the link in the sidebar under "Articles." Be sure to read the comments as well.

3 comments:

Tracy said...

This is a great article!!

I totally loved the message to the organics and vegans! Spot on!

But this obesity epidemic is getting out of hand and this seems like just another excuse for some not to change..."well I can't afford to eat right so..."

I used to work for an extension program and we would make menus and grocery lists according to what your income was. Most of our clientel were young single mothers either on welfare or working to make ends meet.

The biggest complaint that we got was that all the meals took too long to fix and it was easier to go to McDonalds!!

Eating healthy, living healthy is difficult but it is not impossible!! Mindsets have to be changed first, and then we can get to the farming and additives!

mixedtake said...

Thanks for this. FYI this is not only a US problem, it is worldwide. In Japan, the less healthy food are generally in poorly stocked stores in the working class/poor cities. The wealthy areas have the organics etc.Although, at least in Japan, people still have more healthy options than the US because they have open fish markets and road side veggie sellers. I hope you health plan is moving along. You inspire me to stick with mine and my cholesterol level has improved.

Tracy said...

Keep it up girl!!!

It's like a chain reaction...first your cholesteral, then your blood pressure.....then it is on to some new clothes!

Both of us are glad to help!