Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why isn't obesity an election issue?

As I've mentioned multiple times before, obesity is a huge issue affecting millions of people. Fully one third of Americans are obese or overweight, and one in five elementary school children. This is a shocking statistic that should have us all running around like crazy trying to find a solution, no matter the cost. But our politicians, with the valiant exception of Michelle Obama, are basically ignoring the situation. One of my favorite bloggers, Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters, wrote this excellent article that I just had to share. While he writes from a Canadian perspective, the situation in the U.S. is almost identical. Thanks to Mr. Freedhoff for his permission to reprint it. I haven't changed any words except when inserting "Americans" for "Canadians."
So here we are in [America] in the midst of an election. Promises are being made, platforms are being unveiled, and politicians are prowling the land.

So let's pretend for a moment there was this problem in [America]. A public health problem, and it was a biggie.

Let's say there was a virus out there, and for arguments sake, let's say it was killing 25,000 [Americans] a year while afflicting millions. And if that's not bad enough, lets say that this virus was a particularly nasty one, in that if it didn't kill you, it markedly increased your risk of getting a whole slew of other medical conditions. Worse yet, this virus wasn't silent. Infection with this virus was visible to the naked eye, and consequently sufferers became regular targets of societal bias. Infection also lead many to suffer with marked fatigue, and also made completing activities of daily living more challenging, with difficulty rising with degree of infection.

Let's say too that while there was no vaccine or treatment that worked for everyone, there were both public health and medical interventions that might make a difference, if even just to combat the rising negative bias in society, as sufferers were ridiculed regularly, and even had their visible affliction leading them to lower salaries and fewer promotions. Let's also say that amazingly and shockingly, medical schools and other health care professions weren't being taught how to deal with this virus, and that the media had a bad habit of blaming those with it as being personally responsible for contracting it.

And let's say that one quarter of all [Americans] were infected.

I'm guessing that virus would be one hell of an election issue.

And yet the leaders and parties are virtually silent on obesity, a chronic relapsing disease that kills, sickens, stigmatizes, and challenges millions of [Americans]. Our medical schools don't teach our young doctors how to deal with it, and our government spends comparatively nothing on it. 
... Someone's got to stir things up! 
We need politicians to see this as a priority, and we shouldn't elect those that don't.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A sense of wonder

One of my personal heroes, Rachel Carson, wrote a fabulous book called A Sense of Wonder, in which she encourages parents and teachers to cultivate in their children a sense of wonder about the natural world. As I've written before, I believe that time outdoors in nature is an essential part of a healthy childhood. But I also believe that simply allowing kids to wonder about the marvels of the world will cultivate a healthy childhood. Far too often, we expect kids to passively digest information about the world through tv programs and computers, without encouraging them to become active and curious about the (non-digital) world around them. One of the teachers at my school, whose fourth- and fifth-grade students have their own blog, recently asked her students one simple question: What do you wonder?

Each student wrote a journal entry responding to this question, and their answers were so refreshing and interesting that I had to share them with others. 
How did the first living thing come to life?
What would the world be like without people?
What do I sound like?
Are there aliens, and if so, do they call their world THE world?
Why won't Muammar Qadafi leave so there can be peace again?
How long will the earth live?
Why do I like eating so much?
Why do people have a soft spot for things?
What does a cigarette taste like to the ones who are addicted?
What will my job be?
Will we have hovercrafts in the future?
I wnder wy I cant spl?
I wonder how they came up with Legos?
I wonder how the earth was created? 
Why do all people look different?
What is fire? 
 What happens when people die?
Who IS God?
Are dogs ticklish? 
Why is snow white?
I wonder will there be a WWWIII?
I wonder how they make glass.
I wonder who had the idea to make life-saving windshield wipers.
I wonder how the sun was made. 
How long will the earth live?

This is just a small selection of student wonders; you can read the entire list here. I hope this list of wonderings has inspired you as much as it has me. It has motivated me to get outside, explore more, run more, read more, learn more. As Rachel Carson so beautifully puts it,  "Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Feature: Interesting reading on the obesity epidemic

It's been a while since I posted! I'm currently working on a schedule for posts that is more predictable and organized. More on that later. For now, here is this week's Friday Feature. I'm not sure if you'll find that reading about the obesity epidemic sweeping across the country is exactly inspirational, but I find it quite intriguing. In fact, shocking statistics about the obesity levels in American children is part of what keeps me dedicated to teaching children (and reminding myself) about the importance of healthy eating and exercise.

One in five children ages 6-11 is obese, and the numbers are even worse for adults (one in three). But what makes me saddest of all is that one in ten preschool children is obese, and the number is even higher for low-income preschool children. This is the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents. These facts make me frustrated and furious. Thus, when I see them, I become newly motivated to teach children how to eat healthy and get moving. I'll be posting some ways that teachers can help kids learn about these concepts in later posts.

For now, here are some of the blogs, articles, and reports on obesity that I find particularly interesting.

  1. NY Times writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman has become one of my new personal heroes, and he has a great blog that gives information on current political events related to food, obesity, and public health in general. 
  2. Weighty Matters is a blog written by a Canadian doctor who specializes in obesity medicine. His posts often touch on Canadian politics, but obesity levels in that country are on par with American levels and his posts are often very relevant.
  3. Feedback Solutions for Obesity is written by a PhD student at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, who I was lucky enough to meet on a recent visit to the city. The author is researching the complexities of obesity and instant feedback (like apps that monitor your weight), and often posts about new research on various concepts related to health and weight.
  4. The CDC of course has endless information on obesity in America. If you have time to look at only one thing, check out these graphs that illustrate the spread of obesity across the country from 1970 to today. It's shocking.
  5. And, just for fun, here's a website that shows some of the RIDICULOUS fast food entrees that are available for under $4 in the U.S. Like, for example, the Krispy Kreme burger. That's right, a hamburger (plus cheese and all the fixings) in between two donuts. It doesn't get much worse (or better?) than this...

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