New Internationalist

It’s Your Lifestyle, Stupid…

Issue 331

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Health hazard / LIFESTYLE

It's your life style, stupid...

The cherished view of the holistic health movement is that each
individual has a significant say in choosing a healthy lifestyle. Some
public-health advocates agree; they stress individual behaviour
and education as keys to good public health. But how much
power do we actually have in influencing our own health?

Work
Carlos tries to stay healthy. He quit doing construction work after his second child was born. Carlos had repeatedly injured his back and the unregulated work sites in Santiago had taken a toll of his fellow workers too. Besides, he wanted to be around while his kids were growing up. He’d been promised a job ‘managing’ a new fast-food franchise right in the neighbourhood. But the new job was really stressful with long hours, low pay and constant demands from the company to meet service quotas. He was always tired and when it got really busy he felt an odd tightening in his chest.
Illustrations by David Rolfe

Illustrations by David Rolfe Exercise
Maria used to run in order to stay fit. But the air in the city just kept getting worse. The car exhaust combined with the smoke of dozens of factories and workshops and when she breathed deeply it didn’t feel good anymore. Already they were saying that the petro-smog that hung over Barcelona, particularly on hot days, was responsible for hundreds of extra hospital admissions – the old and the very young were especially vulnerable. Maria was not that bad but she noticed an increasing shortness of breath and chronic nasal congestion after her morning jogs.

Smoking
Alexis had struggled hard to quit smoking. It wasn’t easy because he had started when he was just 14. All the other kids did it and the ads made smoking look so cool and glamorous – particularly those hard-to-get American brands. He’d relapsed several times. It was hard to resist when out drinking with his friends. Everywhere he went, even in subways, cafés or doctors’ offices, the people of Minsk were lighting up. And when, in his late 40s, he finally stopped he became an anti-smoking evangelist and his friends just rolled their eyes. He knew his kids had started. He could smell it on their clothes though they kept it hidden from him. His pious self-righteousness could hardly compete with the ads of rugged individualists or those fun-loving yuppies puffing away.
Illustrations by David Rolfe

Illustrations by David Rolfe Parenting
Kwame takes education seriously. He didn’t get past grade eight himself but he sees it as the main way his five kids can get advantages he never had. It’s tough being a parent in Accra, though. The user fees at the high school mean that he can only afford to send two of his kids. Then there are the costs of the books and the clothes – all too hard to cover on what he makes driving the beat-up old taxi. And he is worried about his daughter’s asthma that they can’t seem to get under control despite all those long hours waiting at the clinic. His youngest son – last in line for everything – has become withdrawn and uninterested.

Diet
For Elsa feeding her family was top priority. But moving to Addis had meant that while there was more food in town it didn’t have the freshness of the crops back in the Highlands – at least when it rained enough to provide crops. And her work as a seamstress meant there was little time to browse around the food markets looking for decent-quality food at an affordable price. Anyway the kids thought that if it was advertised on TV or came in a can or package it must be good. She wanted to make them happy so increasingly the tins and boxes replaced those old-fashioned fresh vegetables and fruits. Elsa couldn’t read the contents on the cans and packages but those salty and sugary flavours didn’t taste quite right to her. The kids weren’t bothered though.
Illustrations by David Rolfe

Illustrations by David Rolfe Community
Things have never been the same since Shamila moved to Penang. She knows that it was the right thing to do, or at least that’s how it seemed at the time. There was no work in the village and her ageing parents needed someone to send back money. But living in this highrise jungle on the outskirts of town made everyone depressed. She didn’t know any of her neighbours and the pace of the 12-hour-day at the electronics factory left no time to get to know the other women. She was so exhausted she didn’t have any energy for friends anyway. But somehow the TV screen was a poor replacement for family and friends. Recently she had started getting headaches that made even TV tiring.

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