(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘health

“I just saw some idiot at the gym put a water bottle in the Pringles holder on the treadmill”*…

 

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Like millions of other people, I put a fair amount of effort into “being healthy.”  I don’t smoke, try to eat a reasonable diet, and so forth.  I do all of this with the backing of a strong scientific consensus that such behaviors are likely to be very good for my health and longevity.  None of this makes me special in any way; I am trying to follow what one might call the medical truth of health.

What I want to suggest here is that there is a dark underside to all that healthy behavior. The underside is that the healthy behavior encourages the view that individuals are largely responsible for their own health outcomes, and that if people end up unhealthy or diseased, it’s their fault for not having engaged in sufficiently healthy behaviors.  Call this a “social truth” of health.  This social truth has real consequences. On the one hand, if individuals are to blame for their poor health, then they should bear a lot of the cost of their disease.  After all, there is a sense in which they “chose” to be sick because of their unhealthy lifestyle.  On the other hand, policies designed to create healthier environments or at reducing structural factors associated with poor health outcomes, like poverty, start to seem less important.

“Healthism,” as a prescient article from 1980 called it, has been a growing part of the American social landscape since the 1970’s, when jogging emerged as a fitness trend.  The rise of healthism coincides with the rise of neoliberalism, a loosely-grouped set of policies that aim at analyzing all parts of society in economic terms, expanding the reach of actual markets, encouraging competitive behavior between individuals, and encouraging people to view their lives in entrepreneurial terms (for example, treating education as an investment the value of which is measured in terms of its probable future returns in the form of higher income). Because of the focus on individuals and market behaviors, neoliberal governance tends not to see systemic or public problems except insofar as they can be reduced to the problems of individuals…

It is in this context that we need to see our healthy lifestyles and the dilemma they pose.  It is obvious that those who have the good fortune and the means can and should want to be healthy, for its own sake.  On the other hand, the effort to be healthy directly feeds a narrative that says that poor health is the product of poor management, in the way that poor returns on financial investments might be.  No one is ever simply “healthy;” even health today may hide illness to come, future illness that must be detected and prevented.

The problem is that the wellness narrative causes us to over-estimate the degree to which it is fair to blame individuals for their health outcomes…

The importance of separating what is an individually-healthy behavior from good health policy: “Is Your Healthy Lifestyle Bad For You?

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As we emphasize empathy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that the first classes were held at The Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the second medical school in the U.S. exclusively for women.  (The New England Female Medical College had been established two years earlier.)  It soon changed its name to The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, then much later was renamed as The Medical College of Pennsylvania after opening its doors to men in 1970.

The school’s first building

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Written by LW

October 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Everything has a time of being – a birth, a life span, and a death”*…

 

In 2014, the United States ranked 41st in the world in life expectancy, with an average American expected to live to age 78. But, like most averages, that doesn’t paint the whole picture. Life expectancy is more like Norway’s in some parts of the country and more like Kazakhstan’s in others.

That’s why it’s more useful to look at it county by county…

An interactive map that allows one to do exactly that: “How life expectancy in U.S. counties compares to other countries.”

*Dixie Lee Ray

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As we take our vitamins, we might send carefully-conserved birthday greetings to Gifford Pinchot; he was born on this date in 1865.  An American forester, he became the first chief of the Forest Service in 1905.  By 1910, with President Theodore Roosevelt’s backing, he built 60 forest reserves covering 56 million acres into 150 national forests covering 172 million acres.  Roosevelt’s successor, President Taft– no environmentalist– fired Pinchot.  Still Pinchot’s efforts earned him the honorific, “the father of conservation.”

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Written by LW

August 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The man who invented doritos has passed away at the age of 97. He asked to be buried with the creators of Fritos and Cheetos in a variety pack”*…

 

All told, there are 26 separate ingredients in Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips…

While most of these individual ingredients aren’t all that bad for us, they’re a cheese-dust-covered grenade when consumed together. “The more you mess with food, the more you’re demanding your immune system to figure out what the heck all these new things are — and it can make mistakes,” Shanahan says. For instance, studies show that over-processed foods have contributed to the rise in food allergies in Western countries.

Weirdly, while the ingredients that sound like they’d be unhealthy (i.e., disodium inosinate) aren’t really all that bad, the ingredients we think we recognize (i.e., vegetable oils) are slowly waging the real war on our insides. “The main thing people need to pay attention to are the first few ingredients in these foods, like vegetable oil,” Shanahan urges. “Vegetable oils alone can cause diabetes, and they don’t even contain any sugar.”

All 26 ingredients in America’s favorite cheese-flavored chip, singly and as a whole, explained:  “What’s in This?: Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips.”

* Jimmy Fallon

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As we wipe our fingers, we might send apocalyptic birthday greetings to The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus; he was born on this date in 1766.  An English cleric and scholar, he was influential both in political economy and demography.  He is best remembered for his 1798 essay on population growth, in which he argued that population multiplies geometrically and food arithmetically; thus, whenever the food supply increases, population will rapidly grow to eliminate the abundance, leading inevitably to disastrous results – famine, disease and/or war… a conclusion that remains controversial to this day.

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Written by LW

February 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If man thinks about his physical or moral state he usually discovers that he is ill”*…

 

As we consider revising our New Year’s resolutions…

The term wellness was popularized in the late 1950s by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn, the so-called father of the movement. Writing in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 1959, Dunn defined “high-level wellness,” the organizing principle behind his work, as “a condition of change in which the individual moves forward, climbing toward a higher potential of functioning.” Dunn drew a distinction between good health—the absence of illness, or the passive state of homeostasis—and wellness as an active, ongoing pursuit. While good health is objective, dictated by the cold, hard truths of modern medicine, Dunn’s wellness is subjective, based on perception and “the uniqueness of the individual.” Dunn’s ideas have gained a steady following, approaching near-ubiquity in the 21st century—in 2015, the global wellness industry was valued at $3.7 trillion.

But without the emergence of Europe’s middle classes, without the wealth and leisure afforded by the Industrial Revolution, today’s wellness culture wouldn’t exist…

The full– and fascinating– story at “The False Promises of Wellness Culture.”

* Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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As we reconsider that cleanse, we might spare a thought for Swedish botanist Carl Linné, better known as Carolus Linnaeus, “the Father of Taxonomy,” born this date in 1707.  Historians suggest that the academically-challenged among us can take heart from his story: at the University of Lund, where he studied medicine, he was “less known for his knowledge of natural history than for his ignorance of everything else.” Still, he made is way from Lund to Uppsala, where he began his famous system of plant and animal classification– still in use today.

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Written by LW

January 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men”*…

 

In 2015, more than 1.5 million people were killed by animals. That’s a startling figure. To put it in perspective, that’s about the same number of people who died from HIV/AIDS or diabetes last year.

Some of the culprits are the usual suspects of the animal kingdom. Lions, for instance, with their incredible ability to stalk prey, are responsible for the deaths of about 100 people. Hippos, very territorial, are more dangerous, claiming about 500 lives. Crocodiles are even more deadly, killing 1,000 people.

But take a look at this interactive chart [a portion of which is excerpted above] and you might be surprised to learn that the heavyweights of the animal kingdom do the least damage. Pound for pound, a shark isn’t that scary compared with many smaller creatures on the list…

The relative numbers of people killed by different animals:  Bill Gates explains “Why I’d Rather Cuddle with a Shark than a Kissing Bug.”

* Alice Walker

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As we slather on the DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Mary Mallon– “Typhoid Mary”– died of a stroke on North Brother Island, where she he had been quarantined since 1915.  She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever… before which, she inadvertently spread typhus for years while working as a cook in the New York area.

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Written by LW

November 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me”*…

 

Eliminating meat from our diets would bring a bounty of benefits to the planet’s health and to our own – but, a quick transition would not be without its costs: it could harm millions of people…

People become vegetarians for a variety of reasons. Some do it to alleviate animal suffering, others because they want to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Still others are fans of sustainability or wish to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

No matter how much their carnivorous friends might deny it, vegetarians have a point: cutting out meat delivers multiple benefits. And the more who make the switch, the more those perks would manifest on a global scale.

But if everyone became a committed vegetarian, there would be serious drawbacks for millions, if not billions, of people.

“It’s a tale of two worlds, really,” says Andrew Jarvis of Colombia’s International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. “In developed countries, vegetarianism would bring all sorts of environmental and health benefits. But in developing countries there would be negative effects in terms of poverty.”…

More at “What would happen if the world suddenly went vegetarian?

* George Bernard Shaw (vegetarian)

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As we opt for the vegiburger, we might recall that, for all our sins, to day is National Sausage Pizza Day. While pizza dates back (at least) to the ancient Greek custom of covering bread with oils, herbs and cheese (in Byzantine Greek, the dish was spelled πίτα (pita)meaning “pie”), pizza-as-we-know-it seems to have been born in modern Italy as Neapolitan flatbread.  An estimated 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. every year, an average of 350 per second; 17% of all restaurants in the U.S. are pizzerias, more than 10% of which are in New York City. [source]

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Written by LW

October 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I don’t want just words”*…

 

ZAGATTITUDE  (N.) za-‘gat-i-tood  Mindset of one who always has a firm, vocal opinion on where, what and how to eat—informed by Zagats, Chowhound, and other foodie bibles. Usage: They all just wanted pizza, but Blake, flexing his Zagattitude, insisted they go to a pricey new tapas place he’d read about.

Just one of the “Wordbirds“: an illustrated lexicon of neologisms for the 21st century…

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

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As we match plumage with coinage, we might recall that this leap-day (like every “last day in February”) is Rare Disease Day— an occasion devoted to raising awareness of and encouraging action on the too-often horrifying ailments that fall outside the spotlight, but that cumulatively are all-too-common.  It’s a great day to adopt an orphan (disease).

 

Written by LW

February 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

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