"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Always Sunny (and Obese) In Philadelphia

I really love Philadelphia. The opportunities in this city are endless in terms of the Arts, culture, research, education, entertainment... the list goes on. I also love Philadelphia's beautiful weather, especially on days like today-- it's in the mid- to high-50s and sunny, so I decided to take a walk around campus and get some much-needed Vitamin D (Benefits of Vitamin D). While marveling at the beauty of Penn's campus (and of University City in general), I noticed a few disturbing (and ironic) things:
1. There is a sandwich shop at the base of Penn Tower, which is connected by skywalk to the University Hospital and the Children's Hospital.
2. There is a bakery and a pizzeria across from the Dental School.
3. The McDonalds on the edge of campus offers a "50 Chicken Nuggets for $10" deal.
4. There was a table selling Girl Scout cookies directly outside of the Penn Women's Center (whose theme is "Women's Bodies and Health").


I'm not even sure where to start with all of this. So I'll start with a (not-so) fun fact: Philadelphia was named #15 on Men's Health's list of America's Fattest Cities. (Though to be fair, it was #1 in 1999 on the list by Men's Fitness. I guess that's an improvement?) However, Philly's still #1 on a different list: Highest Obesity Rates of the Nation's Largest Cities. While I understand that, as the article quotes, "Poverty and lack of access to healthy food is to blame," I absolutely do not understand or agree with Foster's quote that "It's cheaper to eat a high-quantity, high-fat, good-tasting food that's convenient... [and] you don't have acccess to a wide variety of foods." Instead of spending your $10 on 50 chicken McNuggets (just the thought of that makes me cringe), why not spend it on nutrient-dense foods you can eat on a budget? I also understand the convenience of fast food, but c'mon! The Fresh Grocer (also known as "Fro-Gro," which is right across from McDonalds here in University City) has pre-made meals for relatively cheap that are real food. Or, go to Whole Foods and get organic whole chickens for only $1.69/pound! Real chicken! Fruits! Veggies! Oh my!

Or maybe Philadelphia is so obese due to the iconic Philly foods: hoagies, cheesesteaks, and Philly pretzels. There is nothing real in a pretzel, cheesesteaks are just disgusting and are also served on bread, and hoagies are the Philly versions of subs/heroes-- yeah, there might be "real" food on them, but there still exists an overwhelming amount of bread. Bread = grain = bad carbs = health problems = obesity.
On that same note, Philadelphia also made this list: Best Beer Cities. As the article quotes, "You'll need something to wash down the hoagies and pretzels." Great. So wash down bad carbs with more bad carbs.
I read a few days ago that, according to Men's Health (once again), Philly is the Second Worst City in the US. That saddens me, because it really is a wonderful place (at least for college, and my friends who grew up here love it too). While unemployment, crime, and air pollution rates would take a long time to fix, cutting out the aforementioned foods would really help the obesity rates. Props to the mayor for the proposed soda tax, but the amount of food around here that makes me cringe is overwhelming.

*steps off soap-box*

Now for some of the other things on my list:

The fact that there's a pizza joint and bakery across from the Dental School isn't Penn's fault: it's just an ironic observation that I made, considering the link between nutrition and dental health. (For more information, read Weston A. Price's book, or check out this blog.)

Girl Scout cookies being sold in front of a place that promotes health is also ridiculously ironic. While there's no connection at all between the Girl Scout table and the Women's Center, it brings up the bigger issue of letting kids sell unhealthy food, especially considering the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. (For a great blog about this, check out nutritionist Jay Robb's opinions.) The main mission of the Girl Scouts is to build "girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place," and awards badges for "Healthy Habits," "A Healthier You," and "Women's Health," so... maybe I'm just confused. How is selling products that are known to cause health problems "making a world a better place"? I don't mean to be harsh on the Girl Scouts, because I really do think it's a great organization (and I used be in it in elementary school), but with all the health and nutrition knowledge out there, I just find it hard to believe that Girl Scout cookies can still be in existence.

Finally, I have three words: shame on Penn. Maybe this is another reason why Philadelphia has such an obesity problem: the UPenn Hospital and Children's Hospital are connected by skywalk to the Penn Tower, which is a hotel that can accomodate families of hospital patients. At the base of Penn Tower is the sandwich shop Potbelly Sandwich Works. Huh. So let me get this straight: patients with health problems (that can possibly be avoided if they'd simply change their diets) go into the hospital, then can go and buy unhealthy food right after being released that will just send them right back inside. What a vicious cycle. (Of course, this is assuming a patient is in the hospital for something due to lousy nutrition and that he/she will go to Potbelly right after... While I'm sure this only represents a small amount of patients, it's still something to think about.)

Here's my quote of the day, from the founder of my school (and that I use at the top of this blog):
"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Lunch today: Baby spinach salad with bacon, tomato, egg, and chicken with EVOO


  1. Great blog! Paleo/Primal lifestyle has changed my life! i now offer it to others through nutritional counseling and acupuncture on the philadelphia main line. www.wayneacupuncture.com
    thanks again

  2. Coming to philly next weekend and would love any recommendations for paleo friendly places to eat.

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