As I embark on yet another attempt to lose weight - I gained this year, a total step backwards in that part of my 2011 Goals - I'm reminded that, really, trying to lose weight requires a certain amount of financial privilege.
With our current "War on Obesity" TM in this country (because we get things accomplished by declaring war on them. Just ask the DEA!) growing in power and ferocity, such as taking obese kids from parents, I'm reminded of John Scalzi's "Being Poor" and "Point of Privilege" posts. In the former, he discusses food options, such as buying the Ramen noodles that are 12 for $1 as opposed to 10 for $1; in the latter, he says,
"The vector of privilege these days is not physical items, but how well one is cared for, or can care for one’s self and family: Whether one has adequate health care, whether one has access to healthy food, whether one’s housing and transportation costs are a not-onerous percentage of the household income, whether one has day care for children, whether one is free of high-interest consumer debt, and whether one can afford to save any money for the future."
Focusing just on those two first things in his list, Scott has what per most health care debates would define as a "luxury plan." In this luxury plan, this year, I was able to deduct up to $150 in exercise program costs. Now, my sister-in-law and I scoured the area for places. For the cheap ones, that would cover sign-up and a month. Maybe. We picked the Y, which was the cheapest. It covered sign-up (which I had a coupon for), and two months. For the rest, I have to dish out $40 per month. Someone who has to play the "which bill can I skip this month so I can feed my family" certainly can't cover that. We won't even discuss the exercise plans where the $150 wouldn't even cover a single month.
Now, this is just exercise; it doesn't go into eating and all that. Many of the health clubs have that for an added amount. My hospital also offers a plan. UMass happens to be one of the best hospitals in the nation for weight loss. Is their plan covered? Nope, absolutely not. That's another few hundred out of my pocket!
Mind you, this is after many other attempts on my own, through programs, and whatever else I've tried that I can't even begin to list.
Exercise should be easy, right? Um. No. More and more cities are losing sidewalks; it's not safe for anyone to walk anywhere. (We won't even get into Stranger Danger and all that fear.) Bikes are targets. The aggressions between cyclists and cars continue to grow in my area. Motor vehicles won't yield to bikes; bikes have to basically break the law to get where they're going. Most people don’t have jobs they can walk to. Many people continue to have to take working lunches, so no walks after lunch. After spending 8-12 hours at your work, honestly, do you want to stay any longer just to use exercise equipment? No. You want to get home and be exhausted with your family. With extended hours, people get less sleep, so they are less motivated to exercise. It's a fight just to get enough sleep in a night. And it's not like people are really able to negotiate with their jobs right now; shoot - we're happy we have a job! And we're constantly reminded of this.
For the sake of brevity, I will only make the passing point that stress, anxiety, and fear cause the body to retain weight. And we live in a culture still ruled by fear: fear of losing work, fear of what the media tells us to be afraid of…
Add to that the cost of food. Just take a walk around your local supermarket. What's more affordable? The store brand pasta made with refined flour or whole grains? 85% ground beef or lean turkey or whole cuts of meat? Canned vegetables or fresh produce? Store brand fruit juice with high fructose corn syrup or the organic, low sugar juice? Which children's cereals are most affordable? All the unhealthy stuff. When it's food or no food, you buy what you can afford so your family doesn't go hungry. Period. Moving even further down the income chain, what kinds of foods are available through welfare, food banks, and WIC? Is it the whole grain, organic, fresh-therefore-perishable stuff? No. So how can anyone dare say it's the parents' fault if their child can't eat healthy?
It's not like the schools are helping. After all, a serving of pizza can cover the vegetable portion due to the 1/8 cup of tomato paste per slice, despite being mostly made up of a thick crust of refined flour and covered with cheap cheese. Because, also, evidently, we're also still following the Reagan logic of tomatoes being a vegetable. There are plenty of other fascinating figures on how schools are failing students with sub-standard lunches for anyone who cares to look them up. Unless you can afford to pack your kid an awesome lunch that they'll want to eat and is also healthy for them, you're stuck with the school lunch.
For poor students, school lunch may be the closest thing to a well-balanced meal they get; Mom or Dad had to buy the 12 Ramen for $1 so that they could use some of the grocery money to pay rent or electricity or fix the car so they could go to work--because public transportation won't get them there on time, if at all.
So, starting in childhood, people who can't afford the best food have their bodies conditioned to subsist on crap. To hold onto fat because one never knows when the next meal will be, or if groceries will run short because electricity will be shut off otherwise. Or, even to hold onto fat because the poor food causes a stress/anxiety reaction in the body. Trained to finish your plate and not waist a crumb, the habit and guilt follow an individual into adulthood, where they finish off the ridiculously portioned meals from restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, here's a little more number crunching for anyone who wants to lay guilt on poor people for eating fast food. If one takes the time to calculate, and depends on schools to provide breakfast and lunch for the kids, a family of four can eat for $10 or less a night from fast food. Carefully mixed with cheap pasta, hamburger, ramen, mac & cheese, and canned vegetables, that can actually bring down the grocery bill and steal just a little more family time before Mom or Dad or anyone else has to run off to their second job.
Am I saying this is good? No. I'm saying our culture doesn’t support a healthy lifestyle, and the poorer you are, the less ability you have to live a healthy lifestyle--even just eat healthy food!
If this country does decide to make this another official "War on…", I'm afraid it will - like most every other war declared - just end up being another war upon the heads of the poor. Until then, those of us who are overweight actually have a chance of dropping weight.
Now, if only we could be inspired to do so as opposed to shamed… but that's an another post for a later time.