Sep 7, 2022, 10:00 AM, Posted by
Tatiana Paz Lemus, Ted Fischer
Diet and physical activity alone do not determine body size. Lessons from abroad reveal how the United States can improve policy around childhood obesity by taking culture into account.
The spread of body positivity is at an all-time high. Celebrities and influencers are celebrating larger bodies. Models of a variety of sizes are promoting beauty and consumer products. And a flood of social media posts and TV shows urge us to love our bodies as they are.
Despite this positive rhetoric, weight bias and fat shaming remain rampant. Thinness is a Western ideal that has had enormous influence around the world, spread first through colonization and echoed today through social media and pop culture. It's an ideal that has racist roots: during the slave trade, middle and upper class white women were told to eat “as little as was necessary in order to show their Christian nature and also their racial superiority” in the words of sociologist Sabrina Strings. Body size became associated with discipline and self-control and used to suggest who did and did not deserve freedom.
Childhood Obesity and Weight Discrimination
While unintentional, anti-fat attitudes have also made their way into public health policy. Take efforts to address childhood obesity: there is no shortage of interventions that concentrate on diet and exercise, based on conventional wisdom that weight gain results from more calories consumed than expended. But this focus on individual behavior feeds into biases that being overweight is the result of a lack of self-discipline or a moral failing.
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Mar 8, 2022, 10:45 AM, Posted by
It's time to reinvigorate our nation’s fight for gender equity. Other countries can offer inspiration and practical solutions to improve health and well-being for people of all genders within our lifetime.
As a mother of two girls, I often wonder what would it look like if women didn’t have to exit the workforce to cover childcare? If men taking paternity leave was the norm, rather than the exception? If our kids had more female and LGBTQ role models to look up to in elected office?
I became hopeful last year when the White House launched the United States’ first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality—a concerted effort to make these “what ifs” a reality.
While we have seen important advances toward gender equity in the U.S, most improvements in employment, education, and income happened before the turn of the century. Progress has dwindled or stalled entirely in the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced women out of the workforce in record numbers, is a stark reminder of the gender inequities that still exist. It's time to reinvigorate our nation’s fight for gender equity.
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Feb 23, 2022, 10:45 AM, Posted by
What can we learn from communities in the U.S. and around the world about changing the narrative on progress? What does it mean in practice to take a well-being approach?
For many months, our society has grappled with defining our “new normal.” The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and deepened inequities that undermine well-being. Combined with a worldwide outcry for racial equity, we have been challenged to reconsider how the United States defines “progress.”
Our nation’s traditional story of progress has been limited to measures like economic growth and employment. When leaders tout our country’s successes, they cite GDP numbers, job growth, and unemployment rates.
On an individual level, a person’s bank account balance, the car they drive, and their generational wealth are heralded as markers of success. These benchmarks only tell a fraction of the human story. They also overlook how structural racism has undermined economic opportunity for communities of color among other outcomes.
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Feb 3, 2022, 1:00 PM, Posted by
Can people in the United States heed the lessons offered by Malawian farmers and use them to build a healthier and more equitable future?
This is the question at the heart of the award-winning film by director Raj Patel, "The Ants and the Grasshopper." It follows farmer, mother, and teacher Anita Chitaya as she travels from her home in Malawi across the United States to engage farmers, food justice advocates, and climate skeptics in conversations about how we can build a healthy future.
Malawi is struggling with severe child malnutrition. Rising temperatures and extreme drought have made it tougher to grow nutritious food and pushed more families into hunger and poverty. In the film, we meet and travel with Anita, who mobilizes people in her village—encouraging farmers to try new agriculture methods and plant nutrient-rich food, and even getting men involved in cooking family meals to help children in Malawi grow up healthy. We learn that Anita and the people in her village have achieved the seemingly impossible—tackling the issues of patriarchy, child malnutrition, and climate change in interconnected and impactful ways.
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Dec 7, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by
Last year, Mexico took a tremendous step toward prioritizing childrens’ health by banning junk foods and sugary drinks.
“Children have the right to be in environments that are health promoting and free of unhealthy foods and drinks.” —Ana Larrañaga works with Salud Crítica, a public health advocacy organization based in Mexico City
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the State of Childhood Obesity website.
Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, legislators in Mexico moved swiftly to ban the sale of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.
Oaxaca was the first state to approve junk food bans.
This started as a true grassroots movement, ignited by the strong community advocacy of 13 different Indigenous groups who were determined to protect people from diabetes and obesity—and prevent the displacement of traditional foods that are deeply rooted in their culture. They fought to prohibit distributors from delivering sugary drinks and junk food to their local stores.
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Oct 13, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by
Brigid Schulte, Jennifer Ng'andu
Policies like paid leave are working to advance gender equity at work and at home in other nations. We just need to expand them here in the United States.
"We are one of the only countries in the world that doesn't offer paid family and medical leave to those who need it." —Robert Espinoza, Vice President of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute
A study by Better Life Lab and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reconfirms that the U.S. status quo of gender roles, both at work and home, is not working for many families. Men are missing out on caretaking roles that enrich their lives and enhance the bonds with loved ones, while women are struggling with role overload, feeling unsupported and missing out on income and economic mobility.
In contrast to the U.S., many nations are advancing gender equity through solutions that benefit health, child development, family well-being, and advance racial equity, like paid leave. The United States can learn from the experiences of other nations that are implementing paid leave policies and find approaches that encourage fathers to take advantage of these policies.
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Oct 7, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by
Tribal Nations, resilient stewards of the natural resources that give us life, can lead the way to a more sustainable and healthy future. Indigenous Peoples' Day marks the urgent need to embrace the expertise they’ve held since time immemorial.
For generations, Indigenous Peoples have known that our health is intertwined with the health of our earth. Their worldview recognizes that being healthy means ensuring the natural resources that give us life are well cared for.
In contrast, Western mindsets tend to view the natural world as an inventory of useful commodities—separate from, and existing only in service to, humanity. Overusing, polluting, and extracting without considering the long-term impacts has created conditions that fuel health inequities in our country: contaminated drinking water, food scarcity, air pollution, and extreme heat are contributing to poor health and driving up disease, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
Transforming our relationship with nature is key to building a sustainable, equitable, and healthy future for all. Through the forcible removal, violence, oppression, and other injustices Indigenous Peoples have experienced, they have remained powerful stewards for many of our natural resources. Their values, practices, and policies can show us the way to heal and reclaim the health of our earth and humanity.
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Sep 22, 2021, 10:00 AM, Posted by
Aleena M. Kawe
Our health is inextricably connected to the health of land, water, and all living things. The ways in which Indigenous peoples live that connection offer lessons that could benefit all of humanity.
Our nation’s health is intertwined with the health of our rivers. And our rivers are unwell.
Drinking water, food, sanitation, clothing, transportation: almost everything we do involves an interaction with water. Yet many people in America take water for granted, not realizing that pollution, overuse, and climate change are putting a chokehold on the country’s natural water reserves—posing a direct threat to health, equity, and our way of life.
While many may think that new technology and innovation can resolve our water crisis, I believe that the solution lies with Indigenous practices that have fostered a holistic approach to living in relationship with the natural environment for millennia. Let me explain.
Our Relationship with Nature
Indigenous peoples share a common worldview of our relationship with the natural world. One that is guided by Indigenous values and principles of respect, cooperation and responsibility. These principles govern our individual and collective beliefs, behaviors and relationships—as given to us from our ancestors. While our customs may differ, our lived connection with our environment is universal. In sharp contrast, Western mindsets tend to view nature as a commodity, maintaining a relationship that is centered on resource-taking.
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Aug 12, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by
Can the bold ideas needed to advance health equity be found beyond our borders? A global learner reflects on the value of looking abroad for solutions and the 12-question quiz that can help us all get started.
One out of four people living in the United States today are either immigrants or children of immigrants. That’s approximately 85 million people, all of whom have connections to other countries and cultures. I’m one of those people. While I was born in Michigan and call New Jersey home today, I’ve spent considerable time visiting, living and working in Mumbai—the city my parents migrated from and where my public health career kicked off.
My connection to my country of origin—through ties to family and friends, time spent living and visiting there, language and culture—has profoundly shaped me and made me the person I am today. Perhaps most importantly, though, it has fostered a deep appreciation for the many different ways people experience, live day-to-day and move through the world—and the great possibilities for learning this brings. Years ago, as a new mother in the United States, I benefited enormously from Indian postpartum food traditions, lovingly prepared for me by my mother and mother-in-law. Now, with school-age children, I wonder which Indian teaching methods could be helpful, trading notes with my cousins and their kids.
These types of exchanges have enriched my life, and I often hear the same sentiment from friends and colleagues with immigrant backgrounds from various other countries. Moreover, they remind us that the way things are done in the U.S. isn’t the only way to do things. Countries around the globe, from Brazil to Malawi, are finding creative ways to overcome similar health challenges to the ones we’re facing in the U.S. By looking beyond our borders, we can uncover new inspiration for advancing health and health equity across our communities.
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