Carole McDougall, our Communications Director here at United Way, recently showed me an article entitled, ‘The Elephant in the Room, Casting an ironic eye at the province’s new “Thrive” initiative.‘ The article, published in the July edition of Southender Magazine, was written by Denise MacDonell and made some observations about the initiative. Who better to make those observations than MacDonell who is described as a Halifax-based observationist, who is interested in politics, real estate, the arts and everything else?
I contacted Denise via Twitter to ask if she would be a guest blogger and have her post featured on our blog. She enthusiastically agreed. I think her ideas make for a nice contrast to my initial thoughts on the launch of the Thrive! Health initiative, which you can read in the previous post.
So, without further ado, we present Denise MacDonell to talk about the intersection of poverty and health.
Recently, our provincial government launched its plan to combat obesity among children and youth in Nova Scotia. The party announcing the “Thrive” initiative was grand! A dais of dignitaries looked down on the crowd, with approval. Fit and healthy young parents were there with their children, extolling the virtues of everything from breastfeeding to homemade baby food. Children displayed their vigor and vitality through dance, and there were photo-ops aplenty for the media, who turned out in force. And the setting? It could not have been more appropriate; the farmers’ market, with its organic and free-range wares on display, was a fitting backdrop.
The event was not without irony, however.
The reality of this festive and optimistic event is that few of the people who could most benefit from the measures set out in the “Thrive” program were in attendance. Indeed, it was a gathering of “the converted,” people who already live the life prescribed through the government’s program, people with ample access to food and organized sports and safe playgrounds. Where were the people who lack those things?
What was not addressed at the launch party was the link between poverty and obesity. In developing nations, poverty is very often linked to children who are underweight and malnourished. In North America and other developed countries, the opposite is true. Obesity among children and youth is inexorably linked to income. The lower your income goes, the likelier it is that you, and your children, will be overweight. It is a global irony.
There is a lot of literature out there that supports the notion that income and weight are inversely related, here in Nova Scotia and across Canada. I wonder what the results would be if one could compare the weights of the dancing children of Bedford South to their counterparts in our province’s poorer communities. I am talking about places where dance lessons or organized soccer just aren’t part of the picture. Communities where playing outside is dangerous, or deadly, and where parents choose between buying groceries or paying the electric bill; where you get on the bus at seven in the morning, off the bus at five o’clock in the afternoon, too tired to play and with the nearest swimming pool 50 kilometres away. Would we see differences between these two groups of young people? I bet we would.
I wonder if single parents working 12-hour minimum-wage shifts went to the launch, or watched the coverage. Were our fellow citizens who sustain themselves on income assistance inspired by what they read and saw in the news? And the family where the breadwinner is suddenly disabled; does the $2 million invested in “Thrive” give them hope for their children? It wouldn’t surprise me if the news of the government’s plan went unnoticed among these families, not because they don’t care, but because their days are consumed with figuring out how to keep their kids warm and fed and out of trouble.
Probably the most significant effect of the “Thrive” program is that we can say we tried. Will we ever see an effect from this initiative? I’m doubtful. My hunch is that the real problem is not obesity, but poverty, and there’s not a government on the planet that has managed to address that.
Denise MacDonell is a Halifax-based observationist. Follow her on Twitter @Dakneez