When you raise the subject of over-eating and obesity, you often see people at their worst. The comment threads discussing these issues reveal a legion of bullies who appear to delight in other people’s problems.
When alcoholism and drug addiction are discussed, the tone tends to be sympathetic. When obesity is discussed, the conversation is dominated by mockery and blame, though the evidence suggests that it may be driven by similar forms of addiction.
I suspect that much of this mockery is a coded form of snobbery: the strong association between poor diets and poverty allows people to use this issue as a cipher for something else they want to say, which is less socially acceptable.
But this problem belongs to all of us. Even if you can detach yourself from the suffering caused by diseases arising from bad diets, you will carry the cost, as a growing proportion of the health budget will be used to address them. The cost – measured in both human suffering and money – could be far greater than we imagined. A large body of evidence now suggests that Alzheimer’s is primarily a metabolic disease. Some scientists have gone so far as to rename it: they call it type 3 diabetes.
A couple of years ago my book club read a book called Still Alice by Lisa Genova, an almost hilariously juvenile account of a Harvard professor of cognitive psychology grappling with her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and eventual complete lose of her short term memory. (My book club tore it to shreds.)
Still Alice did affected my world view of people suffering with Alzheimer’s, for better or for worse. But I forget if Alice was overweight or had a poor diet. As I recall, she thought it might be a genetic thing.
Then [a scarcely regulated food industry] can turn to the government and blame consumers for eating the products it sells. This is class war, a war against the poor fought by the executive class in government and industry.
We cannot yet state unequivocally that poor diet is a leading cause of Alzheimer’s disease, though we can say that the evidence is strong and growing. But if ever there was a case for the precautionary principle, here it is. It’s not as if we lose anything by eating less rubbish. Averting a possible epidemic of this devastating disease means taking on the bullies – both those who mock people for their pathology and those who spread the pathology by peddling a lethal diet.
In the year that I have worked at the Lighthouse, of our long-term tenants, two have passed away. When I started my co-workers informed me that it was part of Lighthouse lore that a tenant passed away every six months and that we were now due. Both people who passed away were in their 50s. I have begun to learn when people ask how old our tenants are it is a safe assumption that almost all are under 65, the age at which you can receive pension here. From my observations, the majority of the people I work with have lived in poverty their whole lives and the majority of them won’t live past 65.
When I took one of my client’s to move into a care home, I stayed with her while she went through the intake process-first the nurse, then the client care administrator, then the accounting assistant. All were amazed at my client’s age-because everyone who interviewed her at the care home was older than her. In her early 50s, my client was constantly falling, incontinence problems, and difficulty swallowing liquids. She also suffered from crazy mood swings which I attributed to a cigarette addiction but which I could now also connect to a poor diet.
(Side note: Losing your teeth and not wearing dentures ages you like nothing I have ever seen. Within one week of clients having their teeth pulled they look like they have aged 5 or more years. (And poor dental hygiene is common among people living in poverty.) (Also smoking does not help the whole youthful look but you have already accepted this as a fact.))
Currently I am helping with a local week long event called the Food Basket Challenge, which challenges local ‘celebrities’ (Saskatoon has no celebrities, but you know) to eat out of a food hamper that one typically receives from the local food bank. I truly believe people still do not understand, poor diet leads to early death.
Here’s a little video I shot of Nicole White, AIDS Saskatoon’s Executive Coordinator on how nutrition effects those who are diagnosed with HIV.
I believe Alzheimer’s is one of many diseases that is exacerbated or directly linked to poor diet. Not to say all those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have poor diets but that those who have poor diets are more likely to suffer ill health and die much below our average life span in the industrialized world.
Sad to think in another 5 months I again will be leading tenants at the Lighthouse in an a capella version of ‘Amazing Grace’ as we remember another member of our community who has passed away too soon.