Depression and the Dust Bowl happened until we got older (bad banking practices, over farming of lands etc.), we understood the most dire face of all. The face of poverty. Hundreds of emaciated people, one after the other, wearing clothes that they grew out of due to losing too much weight. There was no sense of hope in their eyes. Then you hear the stories of what some of these people ate, and it made your stomach turn thinking they didn’t have the most bare of necessities in their lives. I think these sort of lessons stuck the most with me, for I rarely complained about the food I would eat (with the exception of the steamed spinach and brussel sprouts). In fact, I almost became obsessed with not being a picky eater! Either way, the whole depression era fascinated me to say the least, allowing me to fall in love with John Steinbeck’s assorted works of the fallen working man. I still wish to this day that someone would do a proper version of the “Grapes of Wrath,” for even though the 1941 version with Henry Fonda was great, it was still too stuck in the 1930s old-timey acting (to this day, I still think the “Of Mice and Men” movie version with Gary Sinise and John Malkovitch is the best adapted version of any his books). Either way, during this time of great famine and hunger was when we developed several safety net programs to help the most dire. Doctors also started using the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a safety measure to make sure someone wasn’t “underweight.” If anything, our image of the poor was forever changed in the 1980s when a famine hit Africa; Ethiopia being hit the hardest. We would see people walking around, bones showing and hoping for any morsel of food. We would see little children, starving and bloated from a lack of real nutrition. For kids that grew up in that era like myself, we forever associated these images with hunger and want. I’m sure some of us never wanted to look like that, maybe even setting off an overeating trend in their lives that continue today. That time in history seems like a distant memory, save for those that went to the Live Aid concerts or bought the single “We Are The World” (which my parents still have on vinyl somewhere in their house).
These two contrasting images of the poor were if anything, great pieces of propaganda. It forever established a precedent that has now taken on weird undertones where random “health experts” (i.e. any troll on the internet) will deem someone that is lean and fit as “too skinny” and tell them to “eat a hamburger” (or in the case of a fellow vegan friend, eat some chicken legs--double trolling). I’ll admit, in my heavier days, I made such callous remarks, especially about women. But if anything, it was a reflection of myself and that desire to have more people that looked like me as opposed to leaner, healthier people. If no one was healthy, then I wouldn’t look unhealthy in the grand scheme of things. I’m no psychology expert, but I think this mentality may have led to the current situation we are dealing with in America. This new form of acceptance and body bullying tends to affect the most desperate and lonely, which is having unusual consequences. The poorest of the poor in our country are no longer the tired and the haggard and the skinny. If anything, they have become the obese person walking down the street, eating a bag of generic potato chips. It used to be obesity was a sign of affluence, mainly due to the fact that only the wealthy could afford the richest and most fattening foods. So the bigger you were, the more money you likely had. It could be pontificated that this mentality is still relevant in today’s society, but I still contend the lack of a healthy diet and lack of exercise are the two biggest factors in the nation’s rise of obesity rather than an affluence complex. Either way, the argument about what constitutes good and bad health has muddied the argument about obesity and government safety nets, mainly to the tune of “Why do we have fat people on food stamps?”
It’s a pretty interesting argument, one that was looked at by the people at Healthy Living. http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/health/2014/11/13/poverty-obesity-states/ Of the eleven poorest states (there was a tie at No. 10) that were ranked as the poorest in total GNP, nine of them are in the bottom ten in regards to heaviest states (Indiana is the only outsider). Now some might say “Rich people have better access to food and gyms!” as a reason for the difference, but even that statement is shrouded in inaccuracy. The research doesn’t indicate a concrete collusion between wealth and health, for amongst the ten “Slimmest” states in the union, only four of them are in the top ten “Richest” states (but on the other hand, none of the rich states have as high of an obesity rate). This research continues to bring evidence to what many people like myself have been saying. Yes, we are feeding the poor, but we are also poisoning them at the same time. One of the bigger arguments that is always a hot topic political issue (unless something lesser like Ebola and ISIS come around) is whether we should grant more money for food stamps participants. The average is about 32 bucks a week, which is nothing when you really consider it. When you think about it, what can you really do with this amount of money, especially for a family? The first thing you are going to avoid is the fruit and veggies, merely because they are rarely on special at the supermarket. While potatoes, rice and beans are always affordable, you still need the nutrients and antioxidants you can get from leafy greens and multi-colored fruits. Even then, you still have to make that money go far, and that is when you start making a beeline to the most unhealthy of foods. Avoiding hunger is the key, so people are going to buy those party pizzas for 88 cents a piece and the huge pack of Ramen noodles for five dollars. They are going to get the store brand sodas that are 70 cents for a two-liter and buy the ground beef that doesn’t even list how much “whole beef” is actually in the package (newspeak translation “it is all the leftovers!”). The will get the cheap milk and buy the toaster strudels that are on a special deal, hoping they supplement the breakfast needs. With the lack of money involved, we are encouraging people to buy junk food and food with heavily processed ingredients and chemicals. I can tell you from personal experience that a steady diet of this stuff will make you gain some weight, especially when you throw in the sodas and energy drinks to boot (I mention this because all the energy drinks at my store are always on special). And here comes the other problem we have created. Even if the people get off the government subsistence, addiction has been created. I’ve already mentioned the effects of sugar on our brain (http://blog.parsonstrainingtucson.com/2014/10/my-struggles-and-apparently-rest-of_30.html), and with an ample amount of sugar in low priced, processed food items, people are going to keep relying on that fix. Throw in the high amount of sodium in most of these foods, and you basically have an addict.
This also leads to yet another problem with poorer people, one that has been illuminated by some psychologists. The “Feast of Famine” routine. I know this for a fact when I was going through my eating issues. I never wanted to be “wanting,” meaning I never wanted to be restricted in regards to what I ate. It was really a combination of things in my life, mainly jealousy, that helped create a rather strange and sick desire for the most unhealthy of food. What started out as a desire of want, merely because I couldn’t have it all the time, turned into an addiction. Even when times were hard, I still wanted all of the garbage. Instead of buying the high end frozen pizzas I would just buy the low end (which were always on huge specials!), because in my mind, getting pizza was all that mattered. And of course, even though it took three or sometimes four packages to fill my hunger lust, Ramen was always cheap and plentiful. I would also gorge on Chef Boyardee, which rarely went a week without some special. I viewed all of this garbage as things I couldn't live without, even though I easily could live without them. This mentality is somewhat ingrained into our minds through centuries of programming. When times were tough and the crop yields were low, people cut back. But when the yields were high, people gorged not just out of desperation but out of fear, for the good yields might not last forever. That was the very mindset I had, and even though I was considered lower middle class, my eating problems killed much of my buying power because an always hungry man, weighing nearly 400 pounds, is going to get as much as he wants whenever he wants and however he wants. Fear of not being able to eat what I want was always a side note in my mind, for why would I waste time and space on vegetables when I could eat a few cans of Chef Boyardee mini-raviolis and get my servings of vegetables that way! (I still dispute that ad campaign that it had a serving of vegetables!). I don’t necessarily believe poorer people have a lack of access to good food i.e. the “Food Desert” theroem, I just think the lack of buying power combined with the expense of healthier food feeds the need versus want problem. http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/many-low-income-people-overweight-87379/
While food is definitely important, what about the other side of the coin in regards to exercise. Some new research indicates that people with higher incomes are more prone to try diet and exercise to alleviate their health problems while middle income and poor people seem more prone to trying get thin quick schemes and diet pills. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/rich-people-exercise-poor-people-take-diet-pills/378852/ There were some other parts of the research that were quite interesting, that people with an income of under $20,000 are 50% less likely to exercise while people in the range of $20,000 to $75,000 in income were 50% more likely to take diet pills (which rarely if ever work). It led into the psychological problem for lower income people, that how can you create a steady workout regimen if you’re schedule changes week to week? And of course, the darkest assessment of all: Why bother with your health when life is a day-to-day struggle? I’ll admit, I still have this problem in my life. Even when I was working consistently, every day felt like a new challenge. I didn’t have a routine because I didn’t know what my intake would be for the week. Would I get a lot of hours, thus a bit more money to work with? Or will it be yet another lean week? Admittedly, this led to a lot of stress in my life, and even when I did establish some discipline in my eating habits and even after going vegan, that comfortable junk food that was always there for me was calling out my name. Stress and the subsequent comfort eating is something that is well chronicled in our society, and right now, society has made such eating an industry du jour. But even if you could avoid all the food, what about the expense of exercising.
There was once a pretty good meme that my personal trainer put up on his page about an overweight woman complaining that it was too expensive to join a gym. Now of course, unless you are going to join some high end gym, most of the cheaper ones are pretty affordable. Even LA Fitness, where their old contract system would require a team of lawyers to break, have gone soft to the trend and have allowed for monthly membership. But even if you can’t afford the gym, there is still a little correlation to bad health and public amenities. Now this is something I get into a lot of arguments over, for I believe we need healthy parks and good running and bike paths to benefit the community. The massive running path that is being built near my house will be magnificent, for I will be able to run all the way from Valencia to Ina road here in Tucson if I ever decided to take the challenge (that’s roughly 16 miles). Then you have the huge bike path that will ultimately surround the greater Tucson Area, providing an interesting challenge for all those involved. Anyway, when you look at the map from earlier and see the healthiest states in the union, you will notice that it consists mostly of states that either have a boatload of public health options or have a lot of public lands access, meaning people can go hiking, camping and other outdoor activities on the weekend as opposed to watching TV or playing video games. There is a reason why the bigger city of Phoenix is in better shape than the smaller Tucson, mainly due to the heavier deluge of public parks, bike paths and walking paths. (some might dispute this fact, but the fact the diabetes and obesity rate in Tucson is much higher than Phoenix is the determining factor on why Phoenix is a healthier city) If you look at Forbes’ Top 20 Healthiest Cities in the country, you will notice all the entries are larger municipalities that have made many investments in public health. http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2014/05/30/the-20-healthiest-cities-in-america-2014/2/ So there is some data to battle any claim of someone saying “Well walking and running is free!” Not all cities are created equally, and if you lived in a small town that was spread out and had no sidewalks or even a walking path, getting free fitness would be rather difficult.
Obesity continues to be a complex and difficult problem to address in this country. But the data at hand does indicate some measures needed to help the combat the problems. Now it is just a matter of convincing the knuckleheads that represent us in this country to put down their fat steaks and actually start thinking of public health as a viable talking point rather than the controversy of the week that maybe affects a minuscule number of the population. If we want the obesity rate to go down, “doing” is going to have to be the order of the day as opposed to “thinking about it.”
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Parsons Training is a Tucson leader in fitness and personal wellness training. Every personal trainer with this company designs and implements effective fitness programs for their clients; these programs serve as the foundation for good health, fitness, and wellness. Additional information about Parsons Training is available at http://www.parsonspersonaltraining.com
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.