Tag Archives: Obesity

You Tweet What You Eat

3 May

SocialTimes has an article today (Sorry, You Ate 500 Calories Over Your Limit Today — Foodzy Turns Dieting Into A Game) about Foodzy, a new social media-based app that allows users to track their food consumption and share their successes in their diets with their social network.  According to SocialTimes, “Foodzy rewards you for making healthy choices or fun eating habits with badges.”  I guess this is better than the shaming suggested at the Slate event, but I still don’t think that I want updates about everything I eat going to all of my Facebook friends.  Unfortunately, you can’t sign up for Foodzy yet, so you’re all going to have to wait a while for status updates like “Maggie ate oatmeal with Craisins and way too much brown sugar and half-n-half.”  (Really, everything is better with half-n-half.) Continue reading

Obesity as an Epidemic of Social Networks

21 Apr

Today I attended Slate’s conversation on the fight to end childhood obesity.  (I know, I know, not really a normal thing to do with your vacation…)  The event featured a number of doctors, policy makers, and other experts concerned with the obesity epidemic, each of whom presented their own thoughts on the subject and then joined a panel discussion.  The first session focused on the causes of childhood obesity, the second on the solutions.

Although all of the panelists presented different ideas and statistics, they all came back to the same thing: it’s about culture.  It’s about what we value and what we consider socially acceptable.  Dr. Ezekial J. Emanuel (brother of Rohm and Ari — seriously, were they genetically engineered or something), Chair of Bioethics at the National Institute of Health, spoke about obesity as an infectious disease, saying that research on social networks shows that once someone becomes obese, their friends and relatives are more likely to become obese.

All of the speakers seemed to be good liberal soldiers fighting the good fight, so I was surprised to hear the idea that social stigma could be a useful tool in the fight against obesity.  One of the panelists, David L. Katz, Director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, talked specifically about stigmatizing behavior instead of stigmatizing outcomes.  The panelists also made sure to say that stigmatization should only be applied to adults, not children.  But, still it seemed wrong…

They talked about the cultural shift to end smoking and how curbing the way that it was viewed as “cool” was a big part in getting people to quit.  But, obesity has never been viewed as cool…  Okay, I guess it has been viewed as a sign of success, though.    Mr. Katz discussed phrases that link food to the ideas of success and money:  “bread winner”, “bringing home the bacon”, “making dough”.  In our culture, the ability to provide food signifies success, protection, and love.  He also said that for most of human history, physical activity was unavoidable and calories were scarce and hard to get and that recently this has been reversed.  In light of this reversal, until we stop associating food with success, we’re going to have a problem.

Back to the idea of stopping the spread of a disease across a social network through stigma…  This reminds me of quarantine and isolation, how we’ve dealt with leprosy (which was I guess effective, but terrible).  And, it’s the exact opposite of how we’re dealing with AIDS (many groups are working to end the stigma against being HIV positive).  This difference in approach to dealing with the threats of obesity and AIDS strikes me as strange, especially as I would argue that AIDS is a much more dangerous disease.

So, is social stigma an okay tool?  I guess it’s effective.  But is it acceptable?  Can we harness the power of our social networks to stop obesity before it starts and prevent it from spreading along those very networks?

MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new in the world of Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a while new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

Food Deserts, On the lack of healthy food in urban spaces

26 Mar

One of my regular readers asked me to do a post about Food Deserts.

Market Makeovers, which seeks to ameliorate food deserts, defines them as such:

“Food desert” is a term that describes geographic areas where mainstream grocery stores are either totally absent or inaccessible to low-income shoppers. Though these may be located in the vicinity, they remain unavailable to low-income residents because of high prices and inadequate public transit.

Food deserts don’t mean that there’s no food available, just a lack of access to healthy food – namely fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and dairy.  By their very nature, these products are prone to spoiling and don’t do well on convenience store shelves.  So, in communities where convenience stores and fast food restaurants are the main sources of food, there’s often a lack of access to these healthy foods (at least at an affordable price at an accessible distance).

I live in an area (downtown Akron, OH), that some people may consider a food desert.  The local grocery store went out a few years ago and has not been replaced.  My neighborhood is mixed, racially and socioeconomically.  For people like me, the drive to a grocery store isn’t a problem.  But, I suspect that a lot of my neighbors, especially the poorer ones, don’t have cars.  And, for them, the lack of access to a local grocery store is probably a real problem.

People in food deserts are often obese and malnourished at the same time.  As Newsweek explains: “the food insecure often eat what they can: highly caloric, mass-produced foods like pizza and packaged cakes that fill them up quickly… Lower-income families choose sugary, fat, and processed foods because they’re cheaper—and because they taste good.”  (From Newsweek’s wonderful piece What Food Says About Class In America.)  And, even if we put a grocery store on every corner, people would still buy processed food – because it’s cheap, and convenient, and fast.

Talking about (and solving) food deserts is complicated.  It involves so many other problems like urban decay and agricultural subsidies.  And, the solutions are complicated, too.  Things like farmers markets and food co-ops can help, but there are bigger, societal problems to.  Many of the winning proposals in Slate’s “Time to Trim Childhood Obesity” idea contest address some of the underlying issues.  Personally, I like the one about incentivizing people on food stamps to buy healthier food by making their food stamp “dollars” stretch farther on fresh foods than processed ones.

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