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Obesity and a Healthy Lifestyle

Earlier this week I shared that the trusted wisdom of eat less and exercise isn’t always the answer.  Today I want to share some socio-cultural reasons why weight loss may be harder for some women than others.  This socio-cultural factor is poverty.

An interesting thing happens in poor urban neighborhoods, companies don’t build stores there.  Instead of a grocery with fresh fruits and vegetables, you are more likely to find a fast food establishment. The story is even worse in poor rural areas. Adding to the increased distance one must travel for food is the greater likelihood the family has little or no access to reliable transportation. When your access to food is limited, your choices for food are limited. How many bags of groceries can you carry on public transportation? Would you have access to fresh fruits and vegetables every day if you are only able to go to the grocery every two or three weeks? How successful would you be at the “eat less” side of the equation under these circumstances?

Now think about the other half of the equation.  How likely are you to exercise if you live in a high crime area?  What if the sidewalks in your community are covered in broken bottles or broken cement? How far would you be willing to travel (on public transportation) to find a safe place to walk?  How much of your money are you willing to spend to join a health club? How many days a week are you willing to travel to the mall to walk?

The point here is not that women in poverty are unable to lose weight, they can.  The point is that simple answers are not enough.  If you are serious about helping a woman who lives in poverty lose weight you need to be familiar with the resources available to her.  Help her identify solutions that overcome her unique situation – even if it means walking in place in her apartment.

A woman does not need to live in poverty to have limited access to healthy food and exercise.  Think about women living with abuse, who may have little financial control in their relationships. Think about teenagers who must still work their efforts at a healthy lifestyle around school requirements and lifestyle choices of her family.

I am starting to feel like a broken record, but the message really is to know the woman and understand the unique challenges she is experiencing. The problem may not be a lack of desire to eat healthy or exercise, it may be limited access to resources.

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