Archive for the ‘Cultural and societal factors’ Category

Death be not proud

October 10, 2014

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We all know that death is a creepy topic, and we avoid serious discussion of it like the plague (oops, poor choice of cliche!). Well, Halloween is coming, and I highly recommend your listening to this half-hour interview on the subject of death. You will learn a lot, and be entertained as well. Then, to really get into the gory details (and learn a lot more), explore her website and watch some of her short videos.

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Alyssa wants to be a senator (30 second video)

October 8, 2014

Mayday video 2014-10-08 at 4.01.15 PM

Please watch and VOTE for this 30 second video I made with the help of neighbors. The “vote” button is next to the video. The video is part of a contest for a good cause which is helping to end corruption in government (Mayday.us); it is non-partisan.  You will have to enter your email address, but you can trust the site. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions. Please share, tweet, etc.

http://bit.ly/1CV4sCO

Surgery, and airports, could be more user friendly

August 28, 2013

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The other day in the Seattle airport security line I was randomly assigned to an experiment:  I did not have to remove shoes, computers or liquids, and went through the line much faster and happier.

Similarly, surgical prep and post-op could be more comfortable and efficient.  This NPR blog post challenges, among other things, the practice of starving ourselves before and after surgery:

Patients Love a Gentler Approach to Surgery, But Surgeons Balk


Clitoris Awareness Week meets National Bike Month

May 7, 2013

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May is National Bike Month and this week is International Clitoris Awareness Week. So, how do the two fit together?

Clitoris awareness, unlike penis awareness, is not a given. Female children and girls are less aware of the details of their anatomy than boys are. And historically the clitoris has been an object of denial, scorn and even violence (as in female circumcision). This article, for example, documents the  psychological harm done by lack of accurate emphasis on this important organ.

So what does any of this have to do with cycling? Aside from anecdotal reports of spontaneous orgasms occurring during cycling (both men and women), there are other effects of bicycle seats meeting female genitalia, as well described in this blog post . Similar problems occur for men (sometimes resulting in impotence), but this is not Penis Awareness Week — one could argue that every week is.

If you find yourself shocked, embarrassed, or snickering about this blog post, you have just demonstrated the need for Clitoris Awareness Week. I admit, I first heard about it on Weekend Update (on SNL, a comedy TV show) and thought it was pretty silly. But further thought has convinced me it is also serious, and worth publicizing.

For all you ever wanted to know about the clitoris, and more, see this web site.

Parents, remember these numbers: 5210

July 29, 2012

Five-two-one-zero (5210) is a reminder of what our children need each day in order to be healthy. Here is the breakdown:

5    = Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables

2    = No more than two hours of recreational screen time (no screen time under 2 yrs old)

1    = At least one hour of physical activity

0    = Zero servings of sugary drinks (drink water and fat-free or 1% milk instead)

[To remember the numbers I think “five to ten”]

For more information see http://www.letsgo.org

Here is a short video to use as a teaching tool for children: http://youtu.be/TluNJeM6HAI

Here is a more detailed video for help in designing a 5210 program in a community: https://vimeo.com/29985972

Willpower and Fun: a win-win combination

December 12, 2010

In a few weeks it will be January, and at least half the U.S. adult population will be groaning about how much they overdid the holiday spirit and how much they need to suffer to get back in shape. It doesn’t have to be that way.  Exercising willpower and self-control now can put you way ahead of the game later.  But how to do this and still have fun is the big question.

My take is there is no fun, in the long run, in acting as if there is no tomorrow.  This applies all year long, not just during a hectic holiday season.  Being mindful of the beauty and joy of this, and every other, season is what it takes to truly appreciate what we have.  Eating mindfully allows us to truly savor the good food.  Being fully present, and not rushed or distracted, when with friends and family enhances the good feelings (practicing mindfulness also helps combat depression; see here).  On the other hand, neglecting yourself (eating and drinking too much and not exercising) leads to bad feelings and regrets.

Willpower is a controversial topic, but should not be.  We all have it in varying degrees, and there is a lot we can do to get the most good out of it.  See these previous posts for some ideas.  Mainly, treat your willpower and self-control as a valuable but limited resource.  Don’t expose yourself to extreme amounts of temptation (see this study).  Strive for balance in your life, during holidays and all the rest of the time.  Finally, I suggest, don’t define “fun” as a continuous orgy of indulgence.  What is your definition of “fun”?

Do you know a fat person?

July 20, 2010

Call them obese, huge or fat — the stigma won’t go away. And I’m not sure it should.  Obesity is bad for a person’s health, bad for the planet, bad for fellow airline passengers, and even bad for babies born to obese mothers (which, in turn, is bad for the economy; see NYTimes article).  When something causes this many personal and social problems we usually assume it is not a good thing to have or be.

“But,” some say, “we mustn’t blame the victim.  Obesity isn’t a weakness or a fault; it’s genetic. When we stigmatize people, they suffer even more, and may even avoid seeking help.” There is a kernel of truth to this concern, but it distracts us from the main point: obesity can and should be eliminated over time, through more research, and through attacking many known contributing factors (factors such as the  marketing and subsidizing of unhealthy foods).

The most active researchers who advocate against “weight bias” and “weight stigma” (Kelly Brownell and Rebecca Puhl at Yale, for example) also tell us that the obesity epidemic is growing and the health consequences are horrible.  They do not claim the problem is due to a change in genetics.  People can do a lot to prevent and even treat obesity, without altering genes (see many of my posts in this blog).

An anti-obesity program in Singapore that targeted overweight children was discontinued because of concern about stigma, even though the program was effective (reducing the percentage of overweight children from 14% to 9.5% in fourteen years — 1992 – 2006; click here for more information). I don’t know what should have been done in this case; there are no easy answers.

Outright discrimination against people based on appearance is generally wrong, and fat people should be treated sensitively and humanely, no matter what caused their affliction.  (Many equate stigma with discrimination, but I see a difference between the two concepts.)

Whether or not it reduces stigma, television has recently upped its focus on obesity by producing such shows as “Drop Dead Diva,” “Huge,” “Mike and Molly,” and, of course, “The Biggest Loser.”  A new series starts next month, “Too Fat for Fifteen: Fighting Back,” and at least one other obesity-related series is in the works. See this article for a discussion of how obesity is being addressed on TV.

[The photo at the top of this post is from ABC Family’s series “Huge”]

“Corny” isn’t necessarily bad — a book and a movie

June 9, 2010

I just read a book and saw a movie, and each had “corny” elements. But I highly recommend the book, and disagree with the critics who said the movie is terrible.  Corny, by the way, can be defined as “overly or simplistically sentimental” or as “trite and melodramatic.”

The book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, does have a sentimental and predictable main plot triangle, but is very readable and takes you to a world you may not have known about.  It could be minimized as “chick lit,” but this male liked it a lot.

The movie, Sex and the City 2, could also be dismissed as predictable and overly dramatic fluff (as most critics have said), and it is mostly meant for SATC addicts.  However, it deals with several important issues (marriage, parenthood, menopause, women’s rights, sexuality, friendship) and some of the scenes illustrate these issues in memorable ways.  Many will hate it (especially since it is 2 1/2 hours long), but I didn’t.  I found the Abu Dhabi segment interesting; I suspect they accurately portrayed some of the cultural contradictions.  I won’t rate it highly for acting, and the conspicuous consumption (and product placement) can get sickening, so if you go, go with low expectations.

The main reason I decided to write a post about this is I want to defend “simplistic, trite, sentimental and melodramatic” a bit.  Life experiences and lessons learned can be corny, yet also profoundly meaningful.  Melodrama and sentimentality permeate our lives, and seeing them in the mirror of art (or entertainment) can make us uncomfortable.  “Trite” means over-used, and “banal” means commonplace, but the other sides of those coins (to use a trite phrase) are “familiar” and “universal.”  Do we only value that which is original and unique?

Why “Eat only when you’re hungry” won’t work

May 15, 2010

During a recent social event, the conversation turned to weight loss and dieting. One of the women said she read a new book and it had “the answer” to her problem of weight gain: eat only when you’re hungry.  Many books and weight loss plans, in fact, emphasize this point, offering various tips and methods to define “hungry” and help the reader learn what kind of hunger, exactly, they should satisfy and what kinds they should ignore.  The worst books (in my opinion) give the message that people gain weight because of various psychological or “spiritual” hungers that we try to assuage with food.  There is little to no consistent science to back up these claims, and I believe the message does much harm, because it implies an almost magical answer to the problem  of overeating.  When it inevitably fails to work, the victim of this propaganda is left with yet another cycle of failed dieting and increased weight.

As recently as hundreds of years ago, most people did need hunger as a cue to begin eating, because their days were full of physical labor and food was not always readily available.  But, in recent decades, this situation has changed dramatically.  Now, most have relatively low levels of physical activity and the availability of food has increased exponentially — to the point where there is a glut of high calorie, low cost “food” in our faces continually.  We rarely get hungry in the old sense of the word, because these cleverly marketed and subsidized foods (high in sugar, salt and/or fat) overwhelm our biological regulatory systems.  Instead, we develop cravings and hungers triggered by environmental cues and implanted “beliefs” from our culture, no longer based on biological requirements.  In a sense, we get “addicted” to unhealthy foods and lose our ability to trust our hunger.

So, what can we do?  Easy — and difficult.  Train ourselves to ignore these contrived temptations; limit our exposure to them (most importantly, protect our children from them!).  Learn what a healthy lifestyle looks like and adopt it.  Avoid frequently eating “addictive” foods containing large amounts of  sugar, salt and fat.  And advocate, loudly and often, for changes in our culture so that fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed foods are cheaper and more available than the junk food that now receives so many economic advantages.

For more information and tips, check out these links:

Food Industry Pursues the Strategy of Big Tobacco

Coping with the obesity epidemic

Ending overeating

Overeating leads to more overeating

What does 200 calories look like?

Do not — DO NOT — deprive yourself

Mindful eating vs. mindless munching

Weight Management for Your Life: Ten Steps to Prepare You for Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle

I recommend Nutrition Action Health Letter, available by subscription from the non-profit CSPI (regarding today’s post: see the May, 2010, cover story “How the Food Industry Drives Us to Eat” featuring an interview with Yale’s Dr. Kelly Brownell).

P.S.  I have not posted in the last 3 months for several reasons, one of which is having surgery and recovering.  I’m fine now, though.

Sexual abuse of women and girls — a strange day

February 9, 2010

My day definitely had a theme, because I saw, heard, or read four different takes on it. The theme was sexual abuse of women and girls, starting with this column by Nicholas Kristof, progressing to the movie “Precious,” then listening to Eve Ensler talk about girls and the challenges they face, finally capping off my unusual day with another movie, “I Can Do Bad All by Myself.”  They all interacted in my mind, leading to the conclusion that it would help to have more discussion of this difficult topic.

Kristof, a New York Times columnist, often writes about abuse of women as it occurs in undeveloped countries; he may even be the go-to authority on the subject.

The movie “Precious” is nominated for best picture this year, and should be a strong contender.  Despite what you may have heard, “Precious” has an optimistic component and goes beyond simply being a horror story (photograph above is of the main character, Precious).

Eve Ensler began a discussion of what it means to be female with the wildly successful “Vagina Monologues,” and continues to champion the cause of openness and full discussion of women’s issues.

Finally, Tyler Perry adds humor (and singing!) to the mix, but nevertheless takes sexual abuse very seriously in “I Can Do Bad All by Myself.”  No Academy Award nominations for this one, but I liked it.

My hope for this brief post is that you check out some of these four examples, give the topic a lot of thought, and do what you can to make the world a kinder and better place.