I was in the process of writing a post about a new study released by Health Affairs, detailing a supermarket in Philadelphia’s effect on healthier eating (Food Deserts, HUGE topic), and I just began to think to myself that I really don’t want to talk about it. What I want to talk about this week is the issue of obesity. Not in a clinical sense nor a sense like Michelle Obama’s initiatives, but in the sense that all this talk about obesity seems rather… reductionist.
Certainly, we can argue that obesity is an important barometer of our current situation in the United States (and now, world), but it is more than a disease, as classified last year by the AMA. I personally am frustrated with the rhetoric that repeats itself over and over in every study – that obesity is the cause of and answer to the world’s health problems – and that they can be measured by it.
I understand that this is an easy way to quantify nutritional reality. But it’s kinda bullshit. How do we measure obesity? Are we measuring it with the racially-biased BMI as our yardstick? More importantly, what are we doing with that information? I would argue that, more than anything, we are using the measurements of obesity and poverty to shame people into changing their behavior under the guise of health. AND, we aren’t taking a close look at the multifactorial issues that play into and along with that. Shaming people isn’t going to work. In the same way that studies show that happy workers are harder workers, happy people work harder to achieve goals. If we can all work together to encourage a common good and create a cultural shift starting from the ground-up, we’ll all be happier. And healthier.
Go ahead and throw stats at me like “studies show that obese workers are less productive,” or that “obese people put a burden on the healthcare system.” It all may be true (the second one definitely is), but the point is not about blame: it’s about what you do with that information.
Instead of simply discussing our weight, overweight or our increasing body size, let’s look at things like: the heart healthiness of a vegetable-rich diet? Let’s talk about the nature of “enriched” foods and how not great they do in terms of nationwide overall health? Sure, we saw the incidence of Rickets decline after the idea to introduce Vitamin D back into foods… but what do we see here? That the previous intake of those same processed foods didn’t contain Vitamin D, which caused the Rickets in the first place. That’s not a real change. And can we PLEASE talk about the amazing power of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber working in concert with one another?
We need to be looking deeper than the surface for our realities. At this point in the game, it’s really not paying off for us to be reductionist in our thinking – even some of the famous foodies are guilty of it. What is the best for us as a nation? What kind of studies could we do that would focus on health but not exclusively on obesity? What would you do to encourage a community to be more healthful? In the end, asking the people this problem affects is going to be the most thorough answer we’ve gotten yet – and the most effective. All, hopefully, done without shaming anyone.