Whenever I see those “Least Healthy Cities/States/Countries” lists, the place I’m living seems to be on it. Today, I saw a Business Insider slideshow that highlighted Memphis and Louisville (where I’ll be running the Derby Festival Half Marathon this weekend) as two of the five unhealthiest cities, citing high rates of poverty.
This is something I’ll say: advocacy groups in the American south need a major shift in focus. As much as I love those liberal health nuts on Capitol Hill in Nashville, somebody has got to start including poverty as a factor in unhealthy lifestyles if they want to do more than just encourage kids (vulnerable, defenseless-against-their-own-upbringing kids) to exercise on their own. I’m biased, of course, but advocating for a tax structure that doesn’t harm the poor is a good place to start.
In Tennessee, the tax structure is regressive, meaning the poor are forced to pay a greater percentage of their income in state taxes than those at the top. There’s no income tax and a heavy sales tax, which includes a tax on food. Poor families, who spend a hefty chunk on whatever income they earn on necessities like food, are not only getting poorer, they’re getting unhealthier. Advocacy groups, (like Tennessee Obesity Taskforce, bless their hearts, which I wrote about here) are spinning their wheels if they think they can accomplish a long-term focus on fitness without addressing poverty as well.
Actually, the same goes for the church – I had a hard conversation with my friends at the catholic church in west Nashville about issues surrounding sustaining life and caring for God’s creation. They told me that they preferred to outsource the charity to the professionals, the poor being a liability and all. When I asked about informing members of their church about the issues so that they could start a grassroots lobbying campaign against legislation that furthered poverty and criminalized the homeless, I was told that sort of education was “completely hopeless” and the church had a lobbyist and he was quite good, thank you very much.
Please don’t get me wrong here – I love my fellow advocates and the people at the church are good people who try their best. I just don’t know what people think they’re going to accomplish by doing things like feeding the homeless or going into a school to encourage kids to dance or run or jump rope or whatever for one day, and refusing to address the revenue issue because it’s too hard.
Of course, that’s a solution for Memphis. I don’t know about Louisville – I guess I’ll have to run through the city and find out.