Rachel at the F-Word posted about a British “reality” TV show that sounds … well, to me it sounds both boring and dreadful. Valerie, in the comments, linked to this Guardian article on the Brit TV celebrity “nutritionist” featured on the show. Apparently the “nutritionist” is fairly outrageous in a “I know about science because I read fashion magazines” way, but this bit from the end I thought worth thinking about:
In reality, again, away from the cameras, the most significant “lifestyle” cause of death and disease is social class. Here’s a perfect example. I rent a flat in London’s Kentish Town on my modest junior doctor’s salary (don’t believe what you read in the papers about doctors’ wages, either). This is a very poor working-class area, and the male life expectancy is about 70 years. Two miles away in Hampstead, meanwhile, where the millionaire Dr Gillian McKeith PhD owns a very large property, surrounded by other wealthy middle-class people, male life expectancy is almost 80 years. I know this because I have the Annual Public Health Report for Camden open on the table right now.
This phenomenal disparity in life expectancy – the difference between a lengthy and rich retirement, and a very truncated one indeed – is not because the people in Hampstead are careful to eat a handful of Brazil nuts every day, to make sure they’re not deficient in selenium, as per nutritionists’ advice.
And that’s the most sinister feature of the whole nutritionist project, graphically exemplified by McKeith: it’s a manifesto of rightwing individualism – you are what you eat, and people die young because they deserve it. They choose death, through ignorance and laziness, but you choose life, fresh fish, olive oil, and that’s why you’re healthy. You’re going to see 78. You deserve it. Not like them. […]
How can I be sure that this phenomenal difference in life expectancy between rich and poor isn’t due to the difference in diet? Because I’ve read the dietary intervention studies: when you intervene and make a huge effort to change people’s diets, and get them eating more fruit and veg, you find the benefits, where they are positive at all, are actually very modest. Nothing like 10 years.
We focus so much on weight, especially women. Magazines, TV shows, news, advertising, government programs. We focus on diet and exercise to “improve” our weight, but really we’re trying to improve ourselves. Yet we often don’t focus on getting richer or better educated. Richer people can afford more medical care, even in a socialized medical system. Their lifestyles are more likely to include things like education and fresh food and vitamins, and less likely to include smoking or violentand unsafe neighborhoods. These things affect life expectancy. Yet we don’t have a public campaign to teach everyone about basic personal finance or thriftyness or how “tax rebate loans” are rip-offs. Why not? Is it because “improving” our weight is a sexy, exciting thing to do, but education so you can get a safer, better-paying job is boring? Is it that saving for emergencies (so you can repair a broken water heater, say, or pay your COBRA premium between jobs) not only isn’t sexy, but isn’t appropriate for someone who wasn’t born well-off?