Public Health, Diabetes, Exercise

Has anyone else been reading those scary stories about diabetes in the Times (it's a series)? If not, do so now. The gist of the stories is that diabetes has become a serious threat to public health, especially among the poor and predominately Latino and African American. This brings up a lot of issues related to public policy, the economy, government funding for health care, and race-based medicine, and it serves as a cautionary tale about diet and exercise for everyone, especially for those of us who have a family history of diabetes. I've already decided that the next first-year or advanced composition course I teach is going to have a public health theme.*

On a related note, a few weeks ago I read that if you run or walk eleven miles a week, you won't gain any visceral fat. That's the kind I always gain, so I'm implementing this advice: I've been doing one mile on the treadmill three days a week, two miles the other four days. I didn't run at all yesterday, so today I did three miles.

* Edited to add that I've been thinking more about this as the day has progressed. I'm seeing this course as having five units:

  1. Complications related to obesity
  2. HIV/AIDS and safer sex campaigns
  3. Anti-smoking campaigns and smoking ban legislation
  4. Infectious disease (in this case, I'm thinking about using bird flu as a case)
  5. Environmentalism and public health (I'm thinking along the lines of environmental racism)

Any other suggestions, like for assigned reading? A good friend of mine has already recommended assigning Super Size Me.


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I showed SSM to my class at

I showed SSM to my class at Pitt last year, and most students were SHOCKED and also--therefore?--very keen to examine Spurlock's own rhetorical tactics, which they found pretty effective. The others went to eat at McD's later that day. Fast Food Nation would be a nice partner-text to Super Size Me. (Schlosser also has a version for children called _Chew On This : Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food_, which might be interesting as a comparison text too.) And speaking of Schlosser, his book _Reefer Madness_ on American underground markets seems to me to have all kinds of implications for public health (AIDS esp, since he deals with sex workers). Might be good background reading for its big broad economic perspective as you're preparing to teach the course anyway.

I'd recommend showing an

I'd recommend showing an episode of ATHF and discussing how it critiques Schlosser's subjectivity, while simultaneously limning the subjectivity of critique. "Dumber Dolls," for instance.

In honor of de-lurking week,

In honor of de-lurking week, I will chime in here. You might look at The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. It is easy to read, packed full of information, and tackles diseases by chapter. It would be easy for you to pull the chapters that would fit the class. It covers everything from Ebola to Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Hi, Brandilyn!

Thanks for de-lurking. That sounds like a great book to use. As I've continued to think about this, it has become obvious that there are TOO MANY units; I could only spend three weeks on each. So I'd cut it to three, probably.

another perspective for analysis

I'm also honoring the new de-lurking movement...
I'd suggest having students look at and analyze some of the body-positive critiques of the diet industry and obesity-epidemic rhetoric. Katie LeBesco's "Revolting Bodies?" is a good starting point.

Oh, yes. Size acceptance rhetoric would be in there.

Yeah, Bill, I had already thought about assigning It's a Big Fat Revolution by Nomy Lamm, and I'll look into the LeBesco piece; I hadn't heard of it before. Thanks!

Combinations; running

You could combine obesity and smoking into a unit which focuses on seeing these and other health problems as public health issues or "matters of personal choice." And it would also be interesting to think about HIV/AIDS and safe sex under the rubric of infectious diseases; though lately there hasn't been much panic in that regard, I can remember when folks were afraid they'd get "the gay cancer" from doorknobs, etc.

Readings: assuming you'll take a rhetorical angle, Blake Scott has quite a few articles and a good book on the rhetoric of AIDS testing. Foucault, of course. I've ready very good stuff on environmental rhetorics, in both semi-academic forms (a la Schlosser) and journal articles which have a directly tech-comm focus.

On running. I've tried to run six days a week. I just can't do it. If I'm going to take the time to bundle up, warm up, and hit the road, I run for at least half an hour, and more on days like today when the sun unexpectedly shows itself. And even more if I have someone to run with.

I wonder about just counting miles: the kind of miles you run really matter. Seven miles, evenly paced, is a lot less intense work than four miles of intervals. I don't doubt that if you're trying to lose or manage your weight, doing 30 minutes of cardio six days a week is the way to go. Never mind the mileage; just get yourself sweating a bit, and stay that way.

Another reading suggestion...

Just to counter the "everyone who doubts fat is unhealthy is obviously a cook" prejudices your students will have coming in, you might consider assigning them "Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic?," from Scientific American May 23, 2005. It provides a short (4 pages, iirc, plus big illustrations) overview of the scientific argument against obesity epidemic scares, and it's from a "legitimate" mainstream source that students will have heard of.

Of course, there are better sources for the science arguments (such as the book Big Fat Lies), but this has the advantage of being a very quick read. I'd be happy to email you a .pdf of the article if you'd like.

Kook. Obviously a kook. Not cook, but kook.

Sorry, "kook," not "cook." Although the uncorrected version was funnier.

Another article I saw today

From the Post. It's not particularly sympathetic to obese people, but it does offer an interesting perspective, even though parts of it aren't anything new.

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