Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fast Food Nation

The economy needs to pick up "so people can afford to get healthy," said Ronnie Adkins, 67, a retired policeman, as he sat one recent morning on the smoking porch of the Jolly Pirate Donuts shop on U.S. 60.
Fascinating, disturbing profile of the unhealthiest city in the US, Huntington, W. Virginia.
Nearly half the adults in Huntington's five-county metropolitan area are obese — an astounding percentage, far bigger than the national average in a country with a well-known weight problem.
Huntington leads in a half-dozen other illness measures, too, including heart disease and diabetes. It's even tops in the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth (half of them have).
The article cites a complex set of factors responsible for the situation: an economy once built around manual labor (for example, coal mining) that has largely lost its industrial base and suffers from a 19% poverty rate, eating habits that have not changed since those days of high-calorie burning work, an over-reliance on fast food, a population convinced that they can't afford to eat more healthfully. And fast food companies take advantage:
Fast food has become a staple, with many residents convinced they can't afford to buy healthier foods, said Keri Kennedy, manager of the state health department's Office of Healthy Lifestyles.

Kennedy said she had just seen a commercial that presented "The KFC $10 Challenge." The fried-chicken chain placed a family in a grocery store and challenged them to put together a dinner for $10 or less that was comparable to KFC's seven-piece, $9.99 value meal.

"This is what we're up against," said Kennedy, noting it's an extremely persuasive ad for a low-income family that is accustomed to fried foods. "I don't know what you do to counter that."
Add in a cultural attitude that does not value exercise or understand the health benefits (I'm guessing that has something to do with a past built on hard physical labor - why would you look at exercise positively when a measure of success was finding a job where you didn't have to do it?), and you have a population having heart attacks in their thirties.

The causes of obesity and its attendant health problems go far beyond laziness and lack of discipline. This article helps lay out some of the very complicated and intractable issues behind our nation's health crisis. It's about culture; it's about how society is structured, the built environment in which we live and work. And it's about a country that doesn't provide preventive health care or even basic healthcare necessity for tens of millions of its citizens.

No comments: