Taxing Obesity

The Institute of Public Health is proposing that the Irish government implement a tax on soda and other sugary drinks to help combat obesity.  Attempts in New York to ban large soft drinks failed because it attacked only one segment of high sugar drinks while not regulating others like fruit drinks, milkshakes, and even lattes which can have more calories than a soda.  It’s not possible to tackle a large scale issue by focusing on a single minor element.

If they want to tackle health issues like obesity, why not put a tax on video games like Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox?  Instead of children playing outside and burning calories, they sit in front of a screen for hours on end; the only parts of their body performing any exercise are their thumbs. 

Health insurance companies are now starting to charge overweight people higher premiums because they seem to think these folks will need more care in the form of knee and hip replacements and heart surgeries.  What about athletes?  Do they get charged higher premiums?  I suspect there are a high percentage of athletes who obtain medical care on a more frequent basis for sprains, fractures, ligament tears, arthroscopic surgeries, as well as hip and knee replacements than the average obese person.

Haven’t governments learned that so called “sin” taxes – those on things like alcohol and cigarettes just don’t work?  If a person wants those items, they will forgo other things in their life such as clothing, heat, and even food. Taxing sugary drinks will do the same thing for people who like an occasional soda. Cutting funding for schools means that activities such as the arts and athletics are the first things to go as they are considered non-academic, along with after school programs that provide activities for young people. 

Governments tend to tackle large problems like some people weed their gardens – pull just a leaf off a weed and hope the rest of the plant mysteriously disappears.  What happens in reality is the weed, if not dug out by the root, just comes back larger.  Tax one thing and people shift to another or merely shift their priorities. 

In addition, there never seems to be any guarantee with these taxes that the funds will be used to encourage healthier lifestyles. If governments and health insurance companies really want people to become healthier, why aren’t they out there helping to make fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthy foods more affordable?  Why does sugary cereal cost half as much as a healthier granola?  Why does it cost extra in some fast food restaurants to substitute a bottle of water for a soda – especially one that is smaller in total ounces than the soft drink?  Pre-processed and fast food is often cheaper than fresh alternatives.  That’s where the emphasis needs to be instead of targeting one small element of a much larger societal issue.

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Disconnect Me

We seem to want to be more connected these days, but not in a good way.  We use media such as Facebook, Twitter, Cell Phones and Texting; instead of gatherings and face to face conversation.  Too many people would be lost without their cell phone/mobile device.  Most days, I would like to lose mine.  It’s great for emergencies but I don’t always want to be reachable 24 x 7.  Whatever happened to privacy?  I should not have to drop everything whenever that electronic device goes off.

How many times have you been to lunch, dinner, or a party and while talking to someone they will immediately drop the conversation as soon as their phone goes off?  It’s as if you, the live person, are somehow less important than that incoming message/call. Would it really be the end of the world if you ignored that device until after your meal?

Some might argue it could be an emergency.  I have two counter-arguments for that – just how often is that really the case in proportion to the number of interruptions you receive, and how did we handle these things before cell phones?  I don’t ever remember the world coming to a screeching halt every time someone couldn’t be reached for an hour or two, in the pre-cell phone era. You should be able to glance at your phone and determine in an instant whether it’s an emergency.  If you must answer and discover it’s not an emergency, tell the person you will get back to them.

In addition, what kind of a testament is it to our society when a child can’t be away from home without a cell phone because the parents want to be able to reach them at a moment’s notice?  I remember being gone from morning until dinner time as a kid, and my parents didn’t drive around the neighborhood or call all my friends homes every hour to see where I was and if I was all right.  Are fear and uncertainty now the driving factors in our lives?  Or are we all turning into control freaks?

While I do believe that a cell phone can be handy for emergencies like driving at night and having car trouble, I do not want to be tied to some electronic device so that someone can interrupt me any time of the day or night.  It may be convenient for them, but it can be annoyingly inconvenient for me.  If I want to go away for an afternoon or weekend of peace, quiet, privacy and a re-charge of my internal batteries, I shouldn’t have to answer to the electronic ball and chain.

So if you call or text and I don’t answer right away, merely assume I’m busy doing something else, and will get back to you when I have time.  If you don’t hear back in three or four days, then maybe it could be an emergency or then again, maybe my batteries are still charging.

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Government by/for “Average” People

The United States (US) presidential election has been put to rest for another few years.  With the obscene amount of money that is spent on elections and a candidate who made more money in one year than most people can even hope to win in an average lottery, I thought this piece I wrote a while back deserved some air time.

If the representatives we vote into government offices are supposed to represent all the people maybe they should be compensated like their constituents.  That way, they might be more inclined to pass legislation that would benefit a larger segment of the population.

Instead of making salaries that, by the standards of the people they represent, are well above average, they should be required to accept the “average” wage.  If they are a federal level representative, they would receive the “average” wage of the country.  At the state level, they could receive the “average” wage for that state, and so on and so forth.  Alternately, the voters could decide what the pay rate is for their representatives.  No automatic annual increases, it’s all decided at the same time that the legislators are voted into office – all on the same ballot.

Let’s not limit this to wages; it should extend to benefits as well.  They would need to accept the “average” health care plan for whichever level they represent.  I strongly suspect that alone would go a long way towards the passing of real health care reform.

They could be allowed an expense account for travel between their home and the legislative location they serve.  That would likely include “modest” accommodations at that site – which means they can’t stay at the Hyatt Regency when a Hampton Inn would suffice.  Maybe the governments could own a set of “average” apartment buildings for these representatives to occupy while they are away from home.

No more automatic cost of living adjustments, either.  Where can you get a guaranteed pay increase each year unless you turn it down (which they seldom do)?  Try the United States Congress!  (You can probably lump most corporate executives in this category as well, but certainly not the “average” worker.)

Why do we allow our tax dollars to be spent this way?  If these people are supposed to represent the average person, then they should live like the average person.

Some might argue that no one would run for office if they had to accept these terms.  I highly doubt that would be a deterrent.  It would only discourage those who are used to living high on the land, which we seem to have plenty of, already. Instead, more “average” people would run and be elected, which would hopefully have the benefit of instituting more legislation that is for all the people and not just the special interests.

Maybe that’s what the founding fathers really meant when they said “We the people” and “for the people”.  Is it just my utopian dream, or it’s time to get back to basics?

(Aside: From what I’ve seen, this problem isn’t limited to the United States.)

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Olympics 2012

For many people around the world, the Olympics were over a few weeks ago, but this year I found myself just as interested in the Paralympics.   For those who may not be familiar, the Paralympics are for those with physical disabilities that range from sight impairment through those missing multiple limbs.

It’s impressive to watch fully functioning athletes compete at such a high level.  You see the joy on the face of the medalists as well as the heartbreak of those who did not make it past the qualifying round.   I applaud all of them for even reaching the Olympics – a feat most of us couldn’t even dream of achieving and posted a poem on my web site dedicated to all athletes as I believe they all deserve a medal.

I’m at least equally if not more impressed by the Paralympics’ athletes.  Many people might think it’s primarily wheelchair bound athletes, but it’s much more than that.  I saw blind or nearly blind men running races (with sighted guides running alongside them – note: this year the guides received medals as well, which is only right as they must run as fast as the Paralymic athlete).  I witnessed high jumpers who only had one leg – try hopping on one leg for 10 feet then jumping over a bar.   It’s not only the amazing abilities these athletes exhibit, but I saw so many genuinely beautiful, warm smiles on their faces.  How can you not be inspired by them?

The other thing I enjoyed about the Paralympics coverage was seeing so many medals ceremonies.  They have all but been eliminated from the standard Olympic coverage in modern times, and it’s a shame.

It could be because the events were held across the pond, but the coverage of the Olympics, and likely Paralympics in Ireland were far superior to that of the United States.  Having lived in the same time zone as the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, I can honestly say it is not just proximity that determines the quality of the coverage.  US coverage has sunk to being little more than sound bites and quick flashes during prime time television, only covering what the network wants people to see.  Here in Britain and Ireland the Olympics were on all day long – at least 10 am until 10 pm on three to five different channels.  I saw sports I never knew existed and enjoyed all of them.  The US could take lessons from the BBC and RTE.

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Politically Correct, Emotionally Bereft

There’s a term that is used frequently in Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK), though more sparingly in the United States (US) to define what was once girl-/boy-friend, soul mate, significant other, live-in, sweetheart, and when in doubt, spouse as well. The term is partner.

Whenever I hear the term partner connected to a person, instead of the warm breeze one would normally associate with a love interest, it is replaced by an icy blast of indifference.

I suspect the word’s popularity developed as a bridge between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Its heavy usage in Ireland and the UK could also indicate a language bridge to cross over to the continent. Another potential reason could be “significant other” was just too much of a mouthful.

Of all the possible words one could choose to describe a love interest, I would have to say that partner would be near the bottom of my list. For me, the term conjures images of a business-like association based on economics, practicalities, possibly legalities, and/or duty. While these terms may also apply to a personal relationship, they lack the emotional punch that should arise when referring to the person on whom you have bestowed love and devotion.

I would much rather use a term that at least has some implication of affection such as paramour, which comes from the Anglo-French par amour or “passionately, with a strong sense of love or desire” although some dictionaries define that term as an illicit or adulterous love. Another alternative could be beloved for a person who is dearly loved. At least these terms conjure warmth rather than indifference.

If we can take a business term like partner and twist it to mean love interest, surely we can start a new trend with a term that is still politically correct but no longer emotionally bereft. Pick something that resonates with you and start using it. Make one up if you have to – people make up new words all the time. (Post it as a comment, we could have a contest.)

When I do finally find my soul mate, I will be doing my part by making a concerted effort to change this trend by not calling him my partner; regardless of my expectation that he will be an equal participant in household duties (though I suppose that last bit just struck a whole set of potential candidates off the list – such is life).

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Ten Things

In this day and age of budget cuts, unemployment, housing crises, and health care issues, it’s easy to become discouraged.  Even if you normally think the glass is half full, the more you see and hear, the more it tilts in the direction of half empty.

Watching some people, it appears as if nothing can go wrong in their lives, but then there are others who can’t catch a break, no matter how hard they try.  After finding myself sliding down the slippery slope of the latter category, I decided to try an experiment. 

Each night before going to bed, I had to write down 10 things I was thankful for that day.  My original goal was to try not to have repeats and focus just on what happened that day.  On the surface, it didn’t sound that difficult, but in practice it was significantly more challenging.

Certain days were easy, with at least the first half springing quickly to mind based on events of the day,  yet on others it would have been simpler and faster to list 10 things that went wrong.  Often, it required reaching into the mundane, including things that may not actually have been an event, but merely a result of living.  Repeats have become common, but they are things for which I am truly grateful, and I’m also learning to appreciate the little things.  It really forced me to focus on the good and sweep away those difficult items that may have been clouding the day.  

Several times I was in bed before I remembered and twice I did forget, but it always sprung to mind the next morning and I made sure it was one of the first activities of the day.  I recently completed 40 days of listings, and I must say it has improved my view of life.  At least for now, I plan on keeping it up, at least until some of the challenges I’ve been facing are resolved, and maybe even beyond. 

Try it sometime, even for one day.  If it’s easy for you to list 10 then maith thú or ‘good on ye’ as the Irish say.  If you struggle to complete the list, then welcome to what is probably the majority of people in the world; just taking it day by day.

Life is a journey, and occasionally we need a helping hand along the way.  Sometimes that helping hand can only come from deep within ourselves.

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Let Them Eat Cake

Nutrition guides change as frequently as Irish weather.   Eggs are bad for you one month, then good for you the next.  Chocolate, coffee, and even assorted fruits and vegetables have been victims of this see-saw guidance.

A number of years ago, a mechanism was introduced to help people choose the right amount of food per category on a daily basis. The food pyramid continues to be revised in an effort to improve eating habits.  While it may provide a simplistic guideline, I can pretty well guarantee that a Sumo wrestler and a super model are not eating off the same pyramid.

So we start to get the message, eat more fruits and vegetables.  However, as soon as you start to feel comfortable on that bandwagon, the rules get fuzzy again.  You can’t eat just any vegetables; you need to limit the high carbohydrate varieties like corn, peas, and carrots. Of course some argue that corn is a grain not a vegetable and peas are a legume and belong on the protein side.   However, peas still appear in the veggie section of many versions of the current pyramid.  Corn is a grayer area, only appearing on some versions as a vegetable and not at all in others.

Fruit is another place where you can’t seem to win.  Fruit juice isn’t as good as the real thing, so limits or even avoidance are advised.  That’s all well and good; however, have you ever tried to swallow a vitamin or other solid medication with a slice of apple or orange versus their liquid equivalent.   Water may serve the same purpose for some people, but others find those pills, pardon the pun, ‘a little too hard to swallow’ with plain water.  What about children?  Now, giving little children juice is suddenly bad; as bad as a soft drink with too much sugar.

Looking for a healthy snack; something small, easy to carry around? How about a box of raisins?  As a bonus, it’s a fruit, so you can cross another serving off the list, right?  Not so fast.  Despite or maybe because of their compact nature, raisins are high in carbohydrates and sugar, natural sugar, but sugar none the less.

With the changeable nature of these guidelines, coupled with increasingly busy lifestyles, it’s no wonder people give up, throw their hands in the air and declare, ‘let them eat cake!’  Who knows, maybe cake will appear on the “good” list one day.  In the mean time, you may want to consider this guideline:  moderation, and a little common sense, goes a long way.

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