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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Fitness AND Beauty for Everyone!

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty"---that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. John Keats from ODE ON A GRECIAN URN

When it comes to the 'beautiful people' in the world -- those that are fit, toned, trim, great teeth, beautiful skin, radiant hair, incredible clothes not to mention fabulous homes and cars, etc., etc. -- it has been shown to all come down to one thing -- they come from the 'HAVES'. You know what I mean.

Thanks to the research of folks like the esteemed Sir Doctor Michael Marmot and colleagues, it's an unequivocal fact, at this point in time, that socio-economic status or financial security seems to be the most significant determinant of health status, specifically conditions of fitness, healthy lifestyle choices, and absence of obesity. Furthermore, there seems to be a gap, ever widening, between the health/fitness status of the 'HAVES' and the 'HAVE-NOTS'. That is, those that are in lower SES groups and have financial insecurities and stress seems to have more health problems, greater prevalence of poor fitness and obesity, and poorer eating and physical activity habits.

Even without all the studies to corroborate, we see it around us all the time. Drive through wealthy neighborhoods and most people are trim, fit, and looking radiant and great. Go through poorer neighborhoods and the red, puffed, pasty-faced, overweight and obese look is more the order of the day.

Now, of course, over the past 10+ years, as the OVERALL incidence of obesity and overweight has increased, no strata of society has been spared the increase in its obese population -- including the financially lucky and blessed. But, it still remains clear that the lower the SES, the more unfit and disease saddled you and your kin will be. Along with that comes higher morbidity and mortality rates and increase in these things epidemiologists also like to measure called DALYS (disabilty-adjusted life years)with a decrease in QUALYS (quality-adjusted life years).

Guess what?! There is no excuse for this. Without getting into the whole argument of how the rich get richer and the poor poorer or trying to comment on economics and other issues that I know nothing really substantial about -- just from a nutritionist/dietitian perspective -- we can and MUST defy this model. It's time to think outside this box and work harder on what we have to work WITH.

It so happens that many poor people, families,cultures, neighborhoods, and countries have aspects about them that health experts should actually take note that are HELPFUL in promoting health and fitness and which are actually PREFERABLE to those aspects that are glorified and aspired to amongst wealthier people, families,cultures, neighborhoods, and countries. For example, ownership of fancy cars has always been seen as a symbol of success and happiness. I realize having a car can be extremely convenient and useful, but it's not totally necessary -- especially if you live in urban areas that has access to good public transportation. Also, in many instances, even if you have a car, you can walk or use a combination of walking and public transport if you are in commuting distance. Driving everywhere -- even up to the corner -- is such a waste and a missed opportunity to expend kcalories. For people who can't afford a car, it's useless to saddle yourself with car payments when you can walk and use public transport. Alternate means of transport, like bicycles, is also great -- for your financial status and fitness. Many places DO have viable cycling paths and when this is the case, we need to make people who live in these areas appreciate and utilize this means of travel. It's been painful for me to see so many cars on the road in The Netherlands than when I first moved there in 1986. Ironically, in a country that had virtually NO obesity in 1980 -- prevalence is now about 33%. Such a shame!

It's important to encourage consumption of local and fresh produce and other food products that are better-priced, fresher, and more nutritious than what marketing claims and companies try to make people, ESPECIALLY in poorer neighborhoods THINK they need to be consuming. For example, instead of plonking down $2.99 for a burger, fries, and a Coke -- as big and 'worth it' as the meal looks -- make a sandwich at home with local whole-grain bread and cheese and tomato or peanut butter and a banana or left-over meatloaf from night before and drink a big glass of water. This lunch will cost a dollar or so LESS and is much healthier.
It's interesting to see that poorer people who live in the Mediterranean Basin, are often much healthier than their wealthier countrymen because they get fresh fruit, veg, and fish cheaper as its the fare of their country-side, 'peasant' living so they consume this vs the rich and abundant expensive meat, and fancy desserts and creamed and/or buttered veg that their 'up-market' city-dwelling fellow countrymen, consume.

As a dietitian working several years in the South in the USA, I had to find innovative ways to respect the eating preferences of the African Americans who liked salty and fatty pork products, cornbread, rice and potatoes, black-eyed peas and collards, AND an abundance of sweets -- candy, soft drinks, pies and cakes WHILE teaching them how to make changes to their daily preferences to make their intake healthier. I showed them how to cut the fat off their meat -- not ALL of it, but most. I showed them that when they used a product that was naturally salty, they didn't have to add salt. I explained to them that it would take time for them to get used to the less-salty taste, but in time, they would. I HIGHLY encouraged their use and intake of black-eyed and black beans and peas and collard greens and showed them how to make them just as tasty, but without all the grease and salt. I made cornbread for them using skim milk instead of full-fat or cream and LIGHTLY greased their griddles, not use a whole stick of butter. These and many more changes made them fill in control and still able to eat what they liked BUT were much healthier options AND they saved money, time, and food. They LOVED this. This is what we call a win-win!

When I was a dietetic student and even when I was first working, I was CONSTANTLY questioning my professors, mentors, and supervisors about why, how, and when the fancy multidisciplinary treatment programs and wellness-type spas were so expensive and how unfair it was that only the wealthy could afford to get proper treatment for obesity/overweight/poor fitness as well as the myriad of beauty and stress-busting treatments like massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, etc. They would never give me a satisfactory answer. They basically said it was too complicated and costly to provide these services to people that could not afford it. BUT, in my mind, there was also not enough done to get into the poorer communities and find out what steps COULD be changed or taken to work with what they had without spending or draining their or others' resources or to be reliant on charitable organizations.

In my mind, when we, as experts, only provide health and 'fitness' products, advice, services, and programs to the wealthier communities -- we are more or less 'preaching to the converted'.

My goal is to open a 5-star type multidisciplinary clinic with spa services, including a spa restaurant offering culturally-expansive cuisine. I want EVERYONE to be welcome there and able to afford coming there -- for treatments, relaxation, and beautification services of all sorts. I would like to call it 'Beauty Class'

No class or group of people on this earth should be denied anything less or indulged in anything more than another.

My dream is to see research documented someday where rich and poor, 'haves' and 'have-nots' have as a universal equalizer -- fitness and health and beauty -- regardless of 'class'. That would be a 'truth' worth believing in and 'knowing' while on this earth.


Arjan said...

these thoughts make a lot of sense! yet how do you create these good old fashioned habits back into the lives of all people?

MJ said...

We can start by increasing ACCESS to EXCELLENT fitness and beauty products and services in lower SES communities -- not just generic, scaled down versions of what the wealthy communities have access to. Poorer people need to feel they are just as much entitled as wealthy people. I KNOW it's about the wealthier being able to pay for the better services, but perhaps if we start a few trial facilities, mobilizing resources from corporate sources, perhaps through their CSR budgets and government budgets, we can gauge if increasing and executing this access to learn and practice healthy lifestyle living and we can monitor and document the response of the lower SES communities, maybe it's a start. to