From the Editors: January 6, 2016
We are what we eat.
Fewer people make New Year's resolutions nowadays, and fewer still keep them. Nevertheless, weight loss remains the most popular choice among resolutionaries.
Obviously, health is a worthwhile goal. The problem is, weight can't measure health, and diets don't work.
In her 2013 TED talk, neuroscientist and science writer Sandra Aamodt cites "a study that looked at the risk of death over a 14-year period based on four healthy habits: eating enough fruits and vegetables, exercis[ing] three times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation." Unsurprisingly, those with all four healthy habits lived the longest.
But, as Aamodt explains, "Adding just one healthy habit pulls overweight people back into the normal range." The longevity of those who incorporated all four healthy habits was virtually unaffected by weight, Aamodt adds, surmising that "You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, even if you can't lose weight and keep it off."
Meanwhile, "Five years after a diet, most people have regained the weight," Aamodt states. "Forty percent of them have gained even more."
Regardless, in America, weight loss is a $40 billion per year industry. And every January, millions of Americans hand it millions of dollars.
"If diets worked," Aamodt summarizes, "we'd all be thin already. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?"
The problem seems to stem from how we measure health. We fixate on visible (and vain) measures like waistlines, when it's healthy practices that most determine long-term wellness.
And looks are deceiving in our community, too.
Just consider upper Peach Street recently: stores teemed with consumers pumping money into the economy. If full big-box parking lots were indicators of Erie's economic health, we'd be set.
But as Ben Speggen elucidates in this issue, dollars spent at corporate entities translate into far fewer positive impacts on community vitality, as compared to dollars spent at locally-owned small businesses.
And money we spend at many non-local companies can make us unwitting supporters of employee exploitation, environmental degradation, or corporate lobbying that hijacks our democratic process. Spending the bulk of our money at big-box stores may seem innocuous – and might save us a buck or two at the outset – but it ultimately leaves our community malnourished.
Similarly, Aamodt points out the not-so-harmless culture of diets. "At worst, they ruin lives: Weight obsession leads to eating disorders, especially in young kids. In the U.S., we have 80 percent of 10-year-old girls say they've been on a diet."
And it's no wonder. Children adopt the behaviors of the adults in their community. As Ti Sumner explains in her first feature for the Reader, studies show that the wellness of our children correlates with what they see modeled by adults.
So as we enter 2016, our attention shouldn't be on how much we need to lose. Instead, we should devote it to how much we stand to gain by acknowledging that the health of our community – and its future – depends on the everyday choices each of us make.
If we genuinely want wellness for ourselves and all of Erie, it's time to put our money where our mouth is.