Archive for the ‘Health’ Category


Poverty, Nutrition, and Obesity

October 26, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

I recently found myself engaged in a rather heated discussion with a friend who was lamenting the quality of food that she can buy with her relatively meager paycheck.  She was justifiably upset that the best calorie value  for her money was off-brand macaroni and cheese which she could buy for $1/box and which would feed her for four meals.

Shepherd Market by Mr. T In DC

Her experience is far from unique.  In many urban locations, there isn’t any kind of a grocery store for residents to shop at; corner stores and fast food are the only options.  Even where there is good access to a wide selection of foods, the fact is that, as my friend knows all too well, healthy food is simply more expensive than lower-quality but more calorically dense options.

It seems contradictory that we so often hear lamentations of the obesity epidemic in the United States (see the statistics available from followed on the heels of reports about increasing rates of malnutrition (see Hunger in the U.S.).  Aren’t these things mutually exclusive?  They are, of course, not.  When the goal is to get as many calories as possible on as few dollars as possible, the sacrifice that often has to be made is nutrition.  The end result is that people who come from “food insecure households” may well be overweight and malnourished at the same time.

There is no clear-cut answer to this social problem.  Some of the problem is education, and it is here that we see the inextricable links between poverty, education, health, and opportunity.  My friend has the benefit of a good education; part of the reason she is so upset at her situation is that she knows that the affordable choices available to her are also ones that are detrimental to her overall health.  In other cases, however, the individuals in this situation are suffering the double whammy of ignorance of the healthy choices to make plus the lack of healthy choices available to them.  Availability of healthy food, regardless of cost, is another problem; even if a person wants to make good nutritional choices, if there are no stores offering those choices to them, they are left with little choice but to buy less-healthy foods.  The daily-life constraints placed upon the poor are also a factor.  Imagine that you are a single parent working multiple jobs in order to support your family.  You may simply not have time to cook nutritional meals for them and opt instead for fast food.

If the problem of poverty and nutrition is so complex, the solution must also be multi-faceted.  In a sense, nutrition serves as a lens into the more general experience of the urban poor in America.


Sociology of Lifestyle

March 20, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter:  @profgesser


I’ve been fortunate to be involved locally in the performing arts heavily since 2005.  After all, Sociologists do make great “role models”. 😉

Just a few weeks ago the child friendly touring production of Beauty and the Beast was performing at our local performing arts center.  I was prepared to take my two young daughters to see the show, until I found out the cost for four was going to exceed $165.  Beauty and the Beast is fantastic show, I was lucky to see it in New York City about ten years ago.  But $165?  Was that type of cost really worth the show?

While the facility is one of the nicest in western Kentucky, perhaps these types of productions aren’t the most accessible for those in the middle or the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.

In fact, there are many lifestyle patterns that can be determined by examining social class.  Take a look at this breakout of obesity by state.  Do you see any pattern? (click the pic to enlarge)

Now take a look at this national map of poverty.  See any additional patterns? (click the pic to enlarge)

Is there a connection between obesity and poverty?  A connection between obesity, poverty, and geography?  Sociologists are trained to look for patterns in explaining society and human behavior.  Considering lifestyle and entertainment, sociologists identify high culture and popular culture.  Do you think social class is a predictor of types of entertainment that people prefer?  Are there some types of entertainment that are generally exclusive to the upper class?  What types of entertainment do members of the lower social classes engage?  Are there patterns?  Why?


Issues of Health and Health Care Reform

February 26, 2010

Posted by:  Chad M. Gesser

Twitter:  @profgesser


The effort of passing health care reform has been a major source of national interest for several presidential election cycles.  Until recently though, health care reform was an idea without much substance or potential of being realized in the United States.

Health care as a social problem is a very complicated issue.  This is precisely why any effort of passing major health care reform has consistently been blocked.  There are several dimensions of health that have rightfully generated a substantial amount of interest in the United States over the past decade.  The issues surrounding health care are not limited to health care insurance.  They include issues of lifestyle and nutrition (including the high incidence of overweight and obese citizens in the United States), the health care costs for the poor, senior citizens, and the health care costs enacted on the government due to a very unhealthy population.
Certainly a big factor influencing President Obama’s effort of enacting health care reform centers around the number of people not covered by some of health insurance in the United States.
When we drill down into the uninsured data, the picture begins to take twists and turns.  Below you’ll see how gender and race of children can be a deterrent for having no health care insurance coverage.

While this data is startling, it’s important to note that the uninsured rate and number for children are the lowest since 1987.

An interesting aspect of the health care reform efforts is the role that social media is playing in the debate.  Go here to view viewer submitted video clips, questions, and politician’s replies regarding health care questions.

Should their be universal health care insurance coverage?  Should there be a sliding scale?  Is health care coverage a right or a privilege?  Should everyone pay into a health care plan, and everyone be able to use that health care plan?  Is the health care coverage problem tied to social class?  Gender?  Race?


Teenagers on the Road—Rolling Threats?

July 14, 2009

Are teenagers monsters on the road?

Are teenage drivers a threat to the public on the road?

According to self-reporting research, over 70% of students between the ninth and twelfth grades have drunk alcohol. Not only are many teenagers active drinkers, but they are involved in five times as many fatal vehicle accidents as adults. Some researchers hold that teenage drivers are more likely to ignore traffic lights, talk on cellphones while driving, play music dangerously loud while driving, eat while driving, overload vehicles with passengers, turn illegally in cars, race vehicles, speed more, hang out of moving cars, and turn over SUVs than adult drivers. Thus, sociologists might argue that teenagers are more dangerous drivers than adults.

Would you like to respond to this question? If so, select a topic below:

1. Do you think teenagers are a more dangerous group of drivers than other age groups? Why?

2. If you think teenagers are more dangerous, what should be done to control them? How would you respond to the charge that special treatment of a specific age group is ageist (a form of discrimination)?

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Global Poverty Spreads

June 29, 2009

Poverty isn’t just a problem in America. When we look at poverty on a global level, poverty in the United States is relatively small by comparison. Almost half the population of our planet lives in poverty—that’s about three billion people! Most are children. The effects of poverty are more serious outside of the United States, as well.

Who lives in poverty  in America and why has changed over the years.

Who lives in poverty in America and why has changed over the years.

Globally, poverty claims more lives than crime, war, terrorism, cancer, or drugs. But it does it in a sneaky and indirect way—disease, hunger, dehydration, exposure, early births, and malnutrition. And the problem isn’t going away or getting better. According to the United Nations, over 70% of the third world’s, or developing world’s, city populations now live, not only in poverty, but slum areas.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so select a topic below:

1. Many sociologists worry about the spread of poverty in underdeveloped nations because the social structure we take for granted (educational systems, property ownership, economic systems, legal systems, etc.) are absent. They argue this reduces opportunities for people to rise out of poverty. What do you think?

2. Are you familiar with an underdeveloped nation? If so, what problems do you think cause poverty there? Can any of these circumstances be applied to our society? What global or generalizable solutions does this suggest to you for addressing poverty in the world?

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A Social Problem: Learning from a Health Care Scandal in Britain

June 22, 2009

Some sociologists have concluded that America is in a health care crisis. What many people don’t understand is that this crisis isn’t about quality of health care, but access to a health care system. In other words, the problem isn’t with the quality of treatment that people get, but whether everyone is actually getting treatment. Health care, especially the most advanced, may be largely limited to those that can afford it. In response to this problem, some people suggest we might want adopt a health care system similar to the ones France or Britain. Below is a CBS news video about a problem with the British approach. Watch the video and, if you like, respond to one or more of the discussion topics below:

1. Do you think the problem of providing health care described in this report is centered in access or quality? In what way does it vary from the major problems we have in the United States’ approach to health care?

2. Do you think a competitive capitalistic model (supplying health care as a commercial commodity not a human social service) could produce or avoid similar problems? What insights does this give you into foundational problems in supplying health care for most societies?

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A Social Problem: The French Health Care System—Inspiration for an American Solution?

June 22, 2009

In the United States, most people have to pay for their health care. Some sociologists argue that a better way to approach supplying health care services in society is to allow the government to have a stronger hand in regulating the industry. These social scientists point to other countries such as France, Canada, and Britain as inspirational models. Watch the report below from CBS and, if you like, respond to one of the discussion topics below:

1. According to this report, what are some of the major advantages of the French national health care system compared to the American approach to health care? Do you think something similar to the French model might work in the United States? Why or why not?

2. What is the average income of French doctors? Do you think this would affect the number or type of people who would want to become a doctor in America? Would this be good or bad? Does France seem to be having a similar problem? Why or why not?

3. What is a major advantage of the French health care system in responding to emergencies? Does the American model vary in responding to medical emergencies? Which do you think is better? Why?

4. According to this report, the French approach doesn’t suffer from problems of quality or access. What is its major problem? What would you suggest to avoid this problem in France?

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Studying Human Ecology in Cities

May 19, 2009

Some sociologists study the connection between human populations and the physical environment in which these populations live. This area of study is called human ecology. Most studies of this type deal with urban sociology—they study cities. Cities can be defined as relatively small and specific areas where large numbers of people live in a nonagricultural mode of production. Some sociologists question the credibility, or how well a study’s results can be trusted, of social studies in cities because of the environment within a city.

Do large numbers of people living in a small area help spread illness?

Do large numbers of people living in a small area help spread illness?

Other social scientists contend that these problems are not caused by city living, but become more apparent in a city because so many people live in a comparatively small area. They argue that this is what makes the city such a fertile ground for sociological study. What do you think? Would you like to post a response to one of the topics below?

1. Some researchers argue that social problems are magnified when studying large numbers of people in small areas, such as a city. How could you use the current worry about a Swine Flu epidemic as an example to illustrate this point?

2. What social problems do you think a society might experience in a city? Are any of these only found in cities? Which ones? Why you think this is so?

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Drinking and Enculturating

April 10, 2009

Sociologists have studied the use of drugs for a long time. Theories addressing drug abuse vary widely. Some sociologists hold that teenage drug use is indirectly taught through American television programs, movies, and songs. Some go even further, noting that some particular drugs are ingrained in American culture. Examples might include alcohol.

duiThink about this a moment. When is it traditional group behavior to drink alcohol with your friends? When you graduate high school? When you have a birthday? When someone you know gets married? Funerals? Punctuating a final divorce decree? Becoming engaged? How can such traditions be damaging to society?

Are you interested in posting to this topic? If so, then respond to one of the questions below:

1) Do you think that drug use is taught during American enculturalization processes? Why do you think these traditions developed?

2) Do you think there is a difference between drug use and abuse? How does society make this distinction?

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The Social Reality of Being Ugly

January 21, 2009

Sociologists are interested in identifying what society creates. This can be more challenging than it seems at first blush. For example, what constitutes a person being physically “ugly”? Such social labels of “ugly” or “attractive” can have very serious effects upon people’s life courses. These ramifications might be reflected in the findings of some studies: unattractive people are paid less than attractive people, attractive people are promoted more often than unattractive people, and cute children receive more attention than others.

If you were to make a list of physical characteristics of beauty in your mind, many sociologists would predict your criteria would largely be based on cultural understandings rather than on some objective standard. What constitutes “pretty”, “handsome”, or “ugly” varies from society to society and within singular societies over time. For example, in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, overweight women would be considered attractive. Weight suggested health, fertility, and an upper class status. Today, much of society promotes that being thin indicates health, social responsibility, and attractiveness.

Discussion Topics:
1) What physical characteristics do you think most people in society (not necessarily you) define as attractive? Do you think such characteristics are based on some social variables and not natural predispositions? Why?
2) Based upon the above criteria, do you think either Sara Palin or Barack Obama are attractive? Do you think this might have affected the development of their public careers? Why?
3) What other “things” that we normally think of as instinctual or biological in origin might actually be a social product? Why is such a distinction important?

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