Archive for November 2013

Will Caffeinated Beverages One Day Be Judged Like Cigarettes?

How was it not obvious to generations of people that taking part in an activity that fills one's lungs with something other than air (smoke) might not be healthy? Actually, it was obvious to some, but the majority chose to live in ignorant bliss and not think through the issue. The public chose to be so ignorant that the tobacco industry had the gall to create corporate sponsored health studies showing the safety of cigarettes.

Never mind that there were obvious signs of smoking's unhealthiness that didn't need a study (or cancer) to become apparent. Didn't people have friends who were smokers who's voice changed? Who's exercise capacity diminished? Who coughed nastily?

Americans are now waking up to the dangers of refined sugar. It's not a secret that sugar is responsible for most of the current public health crises in America. Eat a lot of sugar, and you may very well get a chronic disease. Stop eating sugar and that disease may go away.

What do refined sugar, caffeine and tobacco all have in common? They all became widespread in Western society after the age of exploration (in other words their widespread use in the West is fairly recent, occurring over the past five hundred years and becoming pervasive in the past two hundred). They were all once priceless trade commodities that wars were fought over. They are all addictive. And they all have had centuries of profit seeking corporations pushing them on the public.

Is caffeine as severe a drug as nicotine? Probably not. It may even have some health benefits (actually nicotine has some health benefits too). What it certainly does do to most people is raise their heart rates. That's obvious. Everyone knows that. It also, when taken in excess, makes a lot of people jittery. It probably doesn't give people cancer, but is it a good idea for people to drink several cups of caffeinated beverages a day and perpetually keep their heart rates unnaturally high and possibly affect their nervous systems?

Is a cup of coffee as bad as a cigarette? Almost certainly not. Doing either once in a while probably isn't a big deal. Will it one day be discovered that drinking a lot of caffeine, which has obvious side effects that everyone knows about, is connected with the development of a chronic disease. Maybe. It would probably be better if society didn't take the chance. The public does much too much experimentation with widespread legal drug use.

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Sidewalk Infrastructure

There is a lot of talk in America today about crumbling infrastructure.  Stories of downed bridges make national headlines.  It is blatantly apparent to most observers that America's public transportation system, especially trains, is severely lacking compared to both European and Asian contemporaries.

At the same time that America faces an infrastructure crisis, it also faces an obesity crisis.  Interestingly, America's fattest states are also some of its most rural.  One would think that urbanites with their indoor living would outweigh their hillbilly cousins, yet that does not appear to be America's pattern.

There are complex social, cultural, and economic differences that cause this disparity, but could a small part of it have to do with walking?  Not so much even the desire to walk, but rather the means to walk - sidewalks.  Most of America's large cities (excluding solely perhaps LA) are completely walkable and well served by public transportation systems. 

Yet, suburban and rural sidewalks are often forgotten about or nonexistent.  Would it be easier for Americans to lose weight if it were easier to walk?  Would the public health benefit (including decreased medical costs) warrant spending on improved sidewalk infrastructure?

Why are bike paths constantly championed, while more basic sidewalks are neglected?  How many pedestrians are killed in automobile accidents each year because of insufficient sidewalks?  How much money is spent on foreign oil and corn grower subsidies to facilitate car trips that people would have avoided had they felt more encouraged by sidewalk infrastructure to walk?

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