When Iowa state officials announced this month that the vaccination criteria would expand to individuals under age 65 with obesity, severe obesity (BMI 30) and smokers, many in social media began to play judge and jury. This has stirred harsh commentary, even among traditionally liberal and progressive individuals.
The vaccination criteria for this new round lists approximately 22 different health conditions that can worsen COVID-19 infections.
For those of us abiding by CDC protocols, who miss family, friends, coworkers, and even work meetings, social media has been a life savior throughout all this. And in recent days, the posts of loved ones that have received the vaccine, showing their vaccination card proudly and encouraging others to do the same, has been cause for celebration.
I feel happy for them. Others do not seem to feel the same.
I detect a sense of suspicion on how the happy persons posting their relief were able to obtain the vaccine. Some make comments to show how displeased they are that those receiving shots in arms are eligible.
They complain the most about smokers and overweight individuals, which made me believe the critics may think that those conditions are entirely that persons’ fault, and that they shouldn’t get the vaccine before those with healthier habits. It saddens me to see how so many believe they can question, criticize and insult other person’s health conditions. But as a person who has battled weight gain all my life, I am not surprised.
Unfortunately, the judgment against smokers and obese persons speaks volumes about the character and ignorance of those pointing fingers. The self-righteous in this case are missing some critical and science-based information about the link between obesity, addiction, poverty, race and ethnicity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among many other factors, the risk of adult obesity is greater among adults who had obesity as children, and racial and ethnic disparities that exist by the age of two. Community and societal factors that influence individual, family, and collective access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages, access to safe and convenient places for physical activity, and exposure to the marketing of unhealthy products are a big factor in a person’s healthy habits.
The negative effects of obesity are disproportionately burdensome for populations like African Americans and Latinos. Combined data for 2015 and 2017 found that non-Hispanic black adults had the highest prevalence of obesity (38.4%) overall, followed by Hispanic adults (32.6%) and non-Hispanic white adults (28.6%). These statistics reflect differences in social and economic advantage related to race and ethnicity.
In Iowa, food insecurity doubled from February to November of 2020 according to the Food Bank of Iowa, so for those who lack access to food for different reasons — money and transportation come to mind — a cigarette can calm hunger and is perceived to lower anxiety, which it doesn’t.
The disparity in access to healthy food is evident if you take a ride in our city. A simple drive from the poorest areas of the city, downtown new developments and the suburbs will reveal the difference.
You can count the healthy and organic grocery stores, gyms and safe recreation areas, you will find few to no availability of those businesses in what we call “enterprise communities” in urban Iowa. Take a step further and examine the price of bottled water vs. soda or a burger vs. a portion of fruits or vegetables.
These are disadvantaged communities, and we all have a responsibility to find solutions for equity access for all to pursue healthy lifestyles. The pandemic has exacerbated the issues impacting the most vulnerable among us.
In the past few years, we have seen how shaming can have a terrible impact in others. Our past president normalized insulting and demeaning others. Unfortunately, I am observing this behavior among traditionally liberal and racial justice-fighting individuals.
I get it, we are all desperate to get vaccinated. We all want to go back to our normal lives as soon as possible, but instead of shaming some based on the criteria set by health authorities, let us celebrate that we will have access to the solution very soon.
by Claudia Thrane
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