#SelfCare is a Privilege
by Rachel Czerny, Director of Campus Wellness
Across social media you’ll find millions of posts promoting things such as green smoothies, 30-day squat challenges, #SelfCareSundays, and #fitspo workout photos. If you choose to eat all the right foods and exercise daily you can be “healthy”, right? The growing obesity epidemic in the United States tells another story.
Despite the overwhelming number of diet tips and workout challenges available online, the obesity epidemic in the United States continues to grow. As a young, white woman, before entering my Master of Public Health program with a specific focus on obesity sciences, I did not understand how this could be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity among adults 20 years and older was 42.4%. The prevalence of obesity for white adults was 42.2%, while it was higher for black adults (49.6%) and Hispanic adults (44.8%). While weight status alone does not equate to a person’s overall wellness, it serves as an indicator for health and longevity. It was not until I entered the field of public health that I understood how my privilege granted me the tools I needed to maintain a healthy weight. While these tools and knowledge became increasingly accessible to people like me with the self-care social media trends, many others were being left out and not receiving the help they needed to live a healthy lifestyle.
In public health, this is called the Social Determinants of Health. It is just a fancy way of saying where you live, work, learn, worship, the language you speak, and your culture, race, gender, and age will affect your health outcomes. Poor health outcomes, including obesity, are also associated with chronic stress in which an individual’s biological stress response is triggered for a prolonged period. Chronic stress can occur for multiple reasons, and is a product of experiencing financial difficulties, discrimination, and racism. American culture places the responsibility of healthy living on the individual, ignoring the disparities that exist in access to healthy foods, safe spaces to play and exercise, education, transportation, and physical and mental health care. The truth is, society’s approach to wellness targets people who are already doing well and does not address social inequities. Being a white, middle-class woman with health insurance and a college degree blinded me to the fact that self-care is not as simple as choosing to exercise, eat your vegetables, and see your therapist once a month. Self-care is a privilege.
This lesson I learned early on in my graduate studies has been brought to light as society faces the COVID-19 pandemic. The same social determinants that lead to an increased prevalence of obesity in racial and ethnic minorities has put these groups at an increased risk of infection and mortality from COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has put increased stress on those experiencing food insecurity, mental health issues due to isolation, financial insecurity, domestic violence, and unemployment. While there is no simple fix to the social inequities that exist in our society, as individuals we can choose to support our community starting with wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Choosing to take the steps to help bring the pandemic under control is choosing to help put an end to the many hardships our society is facing due to COVID-19. The same privilege that allows us to choose self-care, gives us the choice to care for our community.
The blog posts in Forward. Together. are intended to foster an inclusive community of empathy and curiosity at Doane University by providing a glimpse into various individual identities and worldviews. These are community members’ unique stories and should not be presumed to be the experience of all who share the same identity.