Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Over-impassioned Book Review of Globesity That Was Too Good for Just Goodreads

Two very cool things about this book:

1). Coming from a French and British perspective, it's already a little more "globesity expert" just from situated authority. Even better, while most of the research for this book /has/ taken place in the developed world, Delpeuch is quick to remind us that the obesity epidemic is going to hit the developing world like a freight train. Carrying lard. Old "high energy density" eating habits with new urbanized sedentary lives, plus an increased desire among the upwardly mobile for red meat and sweets create the bizarre world where in one country, in one city, in one household, there could be both radical undernourishment and dangerous over-eating.

2). The answers to the problem are also very European. "Stop telling fat people to be more puritan about food and exercise," this book declares, "and start changing their environments!" Frequently citing how the anti-smoking laws in England cut smoking rates, the suggestions at the end include a measly 1% tax on sugary bubbly (which Delpeuch claims wouldn't even affect sales), to more walkable new communities, to business-sponsored sports facilities. Make the trail easier! Take political action! Talk with your boss!

Although I'm wary of plenty of Delpeuch's claims (like that enjoying a diversity of food options--including fruits and veg--is a bad thing, and that people should eat only those things their culture has adapted to eat--which smacks of racism), I'm pretty convinced by much of his argument. If obesity is such a big deal and affects so many besides just those whom it afflicts, we ought to do something about it.

Take Austin's sidewalk problem for example. There is one corner of sidewalk on the way to the elementary school I run past. Let me say it again: one corner. The sidewalk disappears on one side into grass, someone's lawn and then fence, leaving you (or the school children) to brave the busy road full of barreling SUVs giving their children --what else?--rides to school. There is literally no way to let your kid walk to school with the injunction "don't walk in the street." My apartment complex is similar: although many people in my complex come from less car-obsessed cultures (like Pakistan, for example, or California), our complex has suddenly disappearing sidewalks and no lit walkways to and from the office building. People go out for a stroll through the parking lot.

Sometimes there are sidewalks, like in the Rutland neighborhood, but there are no lamp lights and people feel unsafe. I took the bus home a little later than usual and could barely make out the landmarks that herald my stop. Everything is dark and scary. Now, I know low rates of walking is the least of Rutland's poverty problems, but maybe we should at least take the basic steps of providing areas that are well-lit, safe and clean.

And the weird thing is that Austin prides itself in being "active," meaning that there are bike trails in parks that you can drive to (the park I like to use, Walnut Creek, has no access sidewalk. I run through the wild grasses, or sometimes on the road. I don't know what small children or people in a wheelchair would do.) and enjoy if you are rich. AND last year they approved a bill for more trails, all under the halo of that this will encourage more physical activity. As someone who uses the trail system several times a week, I voted against it. It seemed like a tax on poor people to benefit rich people. If we really were concerned with helping people be more active, we would, as Delpeuch suggests, stop making good health a hobby of those rich and vain enough to pursue it and make it an integrated part of everyday existance.

1 comment:

Day said...

If you find yourself wanting another interesting read on the same topic, check out Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. She mentions, among other things, a CDC study done on a particularly afflicted county. Apparently, childhood obesity rates there correlated strongly with the price of produce in the local grocery stores. Depressing, but most interesting. . .