By Erica Bock
The first two weeks of this course really allowed me to develop thoughts on why America’s public health seems to be less than satisfactory. There were three main issues that came to my mind. Firstly, how does the public know what is healthy? Secondly, if something is healthy for one individual, does that mean it is healthy for everyone? And Lastly, who creates common stigmas around diseases and why are they so affective?
It has occurred to me that the general public, primarily the lower middle class and the impoverished which make up the bulk of population are shaped to believe anything low in fat, low in carbohydrates, or low in calories is considered “healthy”. This is because of the mass amount of food advertisements that an individual sees on a daily basis. The processed and “junk” foods often being advertised are not only more easily accessible to all people, but also less expensive. Regardless if this is factual or not, the general public seems to abide by it. Because of the current obesity epidemic, these foods that seem to prevent the gaining of weight seem to be the “healthy” option. However, this compromises the amount of necessary nutrients that an individual needs, thus causing many future health problems. Because such a small amount of advertisers and officials actually explain this, the eating of unhealthy food becomes a burdening cycle due to the population’s ignorance. This ultimately leads to the question, “Which advertisers should we trust?”
Secondly, if a certain food is considered “okay” or healthy for one individual, how do we validate whether it is healthy for all individuals? Doctors, researchers and dietitians are well-versed in many of the common diseases that occur in our communities today (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, etc.). Unfortunately, this knowledge is not transferred to the many people that have these diseases. From noticing both the media and those around me, I have realized that most people tend to believe that “everything is fine in moderation” or “if someone else does it, then it must be okay for all of us”. However, I believe this to be untrue. Doritos and Hostess snack Cakes may be an okay Sunday treat for an athlete who eats very well during the other six days of the week. But would this be okay for an obese diabetic who eats less than satisfactory the other six days of the week? No. If we stray away from the topic of food, a second example could be smoking a cigar. For a physically fit and well eating individual, an occasional cigar tasting may be okay to their health, but would it be okay if this person was asthmatic? No. But how is all of this measured? By numbers? By facts? Ultimately, how do we trust statistics when everyone’s health status is different?
Lastly, this course has made me realize that society has created many negative stigmas around diseases that cause many illnesses to be talked about less than they should be. It makes me wonder how these stigmas were developed. For example, many people go out of their way to support those with cancer which is a very caring act. However, people tend to ignore or judge those with mental illness for fear of embarrassment or being made fun of. If an illness is an illness is an illness, then why should the quality of treatment by the public differ depending on the disease? Are these stigmas dated by the advancement of science? They surely aren’t based on facts. However, from the media and my own interaction with the public, an individual with cancer is more likely to receive sympathy than would an individual with depression. I am imagining the positive effects that more sympathetic caring toward those with depression could result in. While cancer and mental illness aren’t the only diseases that have societal generated stigmas surrounding them, I am wondering how stigmas change the care of sick people around us. Which stigmas can we trust to be true and which can’t we?