Posts Tagged by public health

{Brief} Follow-up: #surviveon35 Final Thoughts

Thank you all for your incredibly thoughtful comments on my last post. I know it’s sort of lame to just give a blanket response to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts, but I don’t know how many times you all would appreciate hearing me say “excellent point!”.  Because people really did make some great points — many that I didn’t think of myself — and it was encouraging to see so many of you taking the time to reflect on this challenge and all its implications. If you haven’t done so already (and find yourself with a little free time), I would highly recommend reading through all the comments. Who knows — maybe they will help you think about the challenge a little differently.

As a quick aside, I can tell you all that during these past few months I’ve thought a lot about giving up blogging (this may not come as a surprise, given how infrequently I was posting for awhile). Sometimes I feel as though I’ve outgrown Health on the Run and no longer have anything of value to add. So when people react to something that I write — something that I clearly feel very passionate about — it means the world to me. And it makes me grateful to have this outlet.

Anyway, I promise I’ll get off my soapbox and move on to other things, but as this #surviveon35 challenge comes to a close, I just have a few final thoughts.

1.) I recognize that the intentions of some of these bloggers are good. I don’t want to discount the fact that this is an issue that hits close to home for some individuals, and that these same people truly are participating because they hope to win money for the food pantry of their choice. This post by Mama Dweeb about her experience as a child is very moving. I honestly do hope that she is able to raise money for the same food pantry that fed her family.

However, that doesn’t change my overall opinion. Whatever the intentions of the individuals participating may be, the poor execution has made for a very condescending challenge…and this has worsened as the week has gone on.

2.) You cannot say that this is a challenge to simply “show that it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget!” I’ve seen this response several times over the past week and it bothers me every single time. Because it’s just not true. When you bring words like “food stamps” and “government assistance” into the challenge, it becomes a lot more than an experiment in budgeting. I don’t care if you are just a healthy living blogger with no real experience or knowledge about the food system — you are still responsible for what you write and the message that it sends. A little more research and a bit more empathy for the segment of our population who live under these circumstances every day would have served everyone participating well.

3.) Unfortunately, many of the meals that I have seen highlighted during the challenge are unrealistic for someone who is actually receiving government assistance, which (in my mind) only furthers the point that this whole thing has missed the mark. Sure, some families may have time to spend a day prepping meals and finding the cheapest prices at local grocery stores. But for many others, this is a luxury they can’t afford. Not to mention the fact that products like Greek yogurt, chia seeds, and bulk bin grains are not easy to come by if you live in a food desert.

Additionally, a lot of the meals I have seen appear minuscule in size. You might be able to survive eating that little for a week, but I can’t imagine feeding a family on so few calories over the long term.

4.) Many of the attitudes that I have seen surrounding this challenge have only continued to disappoint. I can’t imagine that surviving on such a small budget for a week is easy. But if you read a lot of the posts and tweets, you would think the only resulting difficulty has been spending more time planning meals and having to give up fun treats like going out to eat or having a drink at the end of the night. More than anything else, I’ve seen posts that seem to imply how awesome individuals are doing with their super cheap meals.

And I’m not the only observer who has apparently gotten that message. When you read tweets like the ones below from individuals who are “inspired” by those participating, you know there is a major problem with misinformation.

Following the #surviveon35 challenge.  Such a great way to show everyone it is possible to eat real and nutritious food.


“Super inspired seeing what people are getting for #surviveon35! Maybe they should start calling it #thriveon35!!” AGREED

Yes, those are actual quotes from real people (whose names have been removed out of respect for privacy). So please don’t tell me I am being too hard on those participating. While I don’t expect them to be able to control everything everyone says about what they write (obviously that’s impossible), I do expect a little more effort to make sure the wrong message isn’t getting across.

So in conclusion, I will reiterate — this challenge proves nothing…except that there is a lot of ignorance about the state of our food system.

And I suppose it also shows us all that these bloggers are good at budgeting (particularly when several do not have full time jobs and/or a family to feed and are being compensated for their participation). While I hope that those who participate do end up getting a little more out of this week than we’ve seen so far, I can honestly say that I would be happy if I never saw a “challenge” like this again.

Oh, and just an interesting observation that I can’t help but share….

Recently I’ve seen a lot of talk about how the organizers are “upping the ante” by raising money for a charity that helps teach low income families how to prepare healthy meals (which, although admirable, still seems to miss the point…but that’s another topic for another day). The goal is to raise $10,000. Every single person in support of the #surviveon35 challenge has been tweeting and re-tweeting the link to the fundraising page, yet last time I checked (this morning), only $255 had been donated. I’m honestly not judging, just observing. I haven’t donated anything to the charity either, and ultimately I know any amount of money is a good thing.

But I have to wonder — who is the target audience for this fundraiser? And if so many people believe so strongly in the mission of the organization, why have so few donated?*

Just some food for thought…


*These are actual questions that I really want to know the answer to. So if you can enlighten me, please do! I am happy to admit when I’m wrong about something.

Why #surviveon35 Misses the Mark

First of all, I want to make it clear that this post isn’t meant to be a personal attack on anyone. This is simply the personal opinion of someone who has been reading about this challenge and comes from the perspective of a public health professional. Where we don’t all agree, there is room for civilized debate.



If you haven’t yet heard about the #surviveon35 challenge, the basic premise is this: for 7 days, a team of 10 bloggers (in cooperation with Anytime Fitness and Fitfluential) are being challenged to “survive — and even thrive — on [a] meager allowance” of $35/per adult ($20 per child). This allowance is for their food budget only — while they aren’t allowed to use existing pantry staples when preparing meals, this allotment of money does not apply to any other weekly expenses they may have.

From the Anytime Health site:

When the co-founders of Anytime Fitness went on ABC’s Secret Millionaire earlier this year, they had to feed themselves on a mere $35 each for an entire week, the same amount you’d receive on government assistance. They showed that not only could it be done, but it could be done in a healthy way.

Now, Anytime Fitness is challenging ten health bloggers to do the same. Can they survive – and even thrive – on this meager allowance for a full seven days? We are about to find out!

How does the challenge work?

Let’s do the math. $35, 7 days, and 21 meals. That’s just $1.66 per meal. Of course, those with families to feed will have a larger budget ($35 per adult and $20 per child). It’s no small feat, but our bloggers are up to the task!

These ten brave bloggers will strive to eat healthy and tasty foods within this budget for one week. They’ll be posting shopping lists, recipes, and food photos along the way, so you can follow along.

How will the winners be selected, and what do they win?

At the end of the challenge, two winners will be selected by Anytime Fitness based on the healthiness, taste, and creativity of their meals. Sharing helps, too. We will take likes, tweets, and comments into consideration.

The two winners will receive a $1,000 donation to the food shelf of their choice.

I respect that the founders of Anytime Fitness had a life changing experience as a part of the Secret Millionaire, and that they now desire to draw more attention to the issues of poverty and hunger. I also think it’s wonderful that money will be donated to food pantries at the end of the challenge. So I do see the potential for good in all of this. Unfortunately, that’s about where my positive feedback about the challenge ends.

Because I don’t want my points to get lost, let’s break it down, shall we?

The Wording

First of all, there’s the way this whole thing is phrased. Framing it as a “challenge” makes it sound like a big game — whether the bloggers themselves see it that way or not. I don’t really think it needs to be reiterated that hunger and poverty are not games. For most people, this situation is not a choice. It is a harsh reality they face each and every day. “Competing” to see who can make the most creative/cheapest meals on a food stamp budget makes light of that.

The organizers also call the bloggers “brave” and suggest that people can “thrive” on “the same amount as [they’d] receive on government assistance.

Do I think it’s great that bloggers who are used to spending money on organic foods are stepping out of their comfort zones as they try to form healthy meals on less? Yes. But they certainly aren’t brave. Especially when they are being sponsored by companies to do so, and the worst that can come of all this is receiving negative feedback on their websites.

Secondly, while it certainly is possible to “thrive” on a lower food budget (healthy meals don’t always have to be super expensive), bringing food stamps and government assistance into the discussion sends the wrong message. Besides the fact that food stamps are unfortunately associated with stigma and talks of challenging yourself to survive on them can sound condescending, the way that the entire challenge is phrased seems to imply that a person can thrive on government assistance. Clearly there are a whole host of issues associated with this implication. I would like to believe that this isn’t really the organizers’ intent, but that doesn’t change the fact that this could have been worded a bit more sensitively.

Not to mention the fact that comparing the $35 budget these bloggers will live on for the week to the amount a person would receive on food stamps is inaccurate. Without getting into too much detail, the amount of assistance an individual/family receives depends on many things — such as the state they live in, household size, other resources available (such as wages) or other forms of assistance a person receives, and expenses like child support and rent. (You can find more information here.)

I do not think this challenge would have suffered in any way had they left out any talk of government assistance. In fact, I think that it would have greatly limited the amount of negative feedback these bloggers have been getting.

The Context

I would honestly hope that none of the individuals participating truly believe that they are experiencing what it would be like to survive on government assistance. Unfortunately, many statements that have been made by both participating bloggers and individuals who have commented in support suggest otherwise. The statement that “I am going to SHOW YOU that it is possible to eat healthy on $35 a week” and the sentiment that: “If I can do it, you can too!” is just ridiculous. Just because a healthy living blogger — who has access to a car to drive to a full-service supermarket, can pay for their own gas, has a working kitchen with many appliances, and is already primed to eat healthy — can figure out ways to survive on a smaller food budget for a week does not mean that someone who is on government assistance can do the same.

This is a challenge set in the wrong context. Individuals who face poverty deal with many more factors than their weekly food allowance. There are huge (often insurmountable) issues of access. Many individuals do not live in an area with a full service grocery store, nor do they have a car to get there. They may need to rely on public transportation (which often has limitations on the number of bags you can carry on – I know the bus system in Rhode Island does)…and this in the midst of any other competing priorities, such as raising a family on a single income, working long hours, dealing with issues of safety, paying other bills. Regardless of the intentions of the challenge, it simplifies the issue in a way that does an injustice to low income families. Particularly since this challenge does not appear to incorporate any sort of education around food deserts, poverty issues, policies that can improve access to healthy foods, the types of foods available at food banks, etc.

Again, just because a blogger sacrifices buying organics for the store brand for one week and knows how to put together a healthy breakfast with Greek yogurt does not make this a realistic example.

The “Cause”

Another term that I have seen thrown around in regards to this challenge is that these bloggers should be commended for raising awareness and support of “the cause.” However – I’m confused about which cause they are referring to? The cause of not being able to shop at Whole Foods for a week? The cause of getting more publicity for Anytime Fitness (because I’m sorry, but if the company didn’t want publicity from this, their name wouldn’t be associated with every tweet and post about it)? Or is it the cause that $35 per person per week is enough food money for a low income family? I truly am baffled by this. Since the object of the challenge is to see who can create the healthiest, tastiest, and most creative meals on only $35, it seems to imply that this amount should be more than sufficient to do so.

I get that operating on a lower food budget for a week requires extra planning and creativity. But I can’t help but think the “cause” would have been better served if there weren’t a winner at the end. And if the purpose of this whole thing was to actually bring visibility to the fact that government assistance should be increased, or that we need to have better policies in place to help more individuals “thrive” on their own — not on food stamps.

The Visibility

You can read what I’ve written above and tell me that I’m missing the point, or that I’m reading too much into this or even that I’m simply being a “hater.” Fine. We can agree to disagree. However, you cannot argue with the fact that the publicity around this thing has been ridiculous.

This is called the Secret Millionaire Challenge. Now, I’ve never been on the show, but I was under the impression that the entire premise was for a millionaire to secretly go into a deprived/low income neighborhood and live on a low budget among the community. Sure, there’s a big emotional reveal at the end, but they don’t spend the entire week telling everyone they come in contact with that they are really rich people who are being so “brave” to go and live as though they are low income.

So I don’t see how this is the same thing. My Twitter feed had been clogged with individuals telling us just how cheap they were able to make their breakfast. It was made clear right from the start that there are two millionaires (co-founders of Anytime Fitness) who were sponsoring the challenge. And part of the criteria winners will be judged on includes Facebook likes, tweets, and comments on their posts. …i.e. the person who garners the most publicity for what they are doing.

You can say you are doing good, but the fact that you need everyone to know it makes it seem just a little bit less genuine.

How it Could Have Been Better

This post is really long already, but I hate to criticize without giving any sort of suggestions about how I think it could have been improved. I do not think the challenge is bad in theory, just in execution.

Here are ways that I think the challenge could have been more positive overall:

1.) Leave food stamps/government assistance out of the discussion.

Instead, frame the challenge as bloggers learning to survive on a restricted budget for the week. Or, better yet, have a two-week challenge where the blogger keeps track of what he/she normally spends, and then is challenged to cut that in half or by a certain percentage the next week and see how they make that work.

2.) If you must talk about government assistance, don’t make this an actual challenge to see who can create the best/cheapest meals, and please stop talking about how these bloggers are going to “show” people that it is possible to eat healthy while living on government assistance.

Better guidelines could have encouraged bloggers to shop at convenience stores or even a Price-Rite/Shop-Rite. It can often be much harder to find fresh produce and healthy meal options at these types of stores than your local Publix or Stop ‘n Shop. Finding ways to make healthy meals on $35 based on shopping at a convenience store would have been a much more difficult challenge — one that required creativity and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. Guidelines also could have required that bloggers only go to one store, or get there by public transportation…basically anything that would more closely mimic other obstacles that a person on government assistance would face.

3.) Include some education.

I know this challenge has just started, so we don’t know what will come of it. I truly hope that bloggers do more than write about their cheap meals for the week. If they took this opportunity to educate themselves and their readers on the issues, investigate local policies, see what types of food products are carried at their local convenience store or offered in the food pantry, I believe a lot more good could come of this.

In summary – – the tl;dr version: I know that the end result is money donated to a food pantry, and I think that’s wonderful (I really do!). I just wish the challenge would have been better thought out. Because as it stands, #surviveon35 really missed the mark.


The Weight of the Nation

Just a quick, last minute PSA in case you haven’t heard…

Tonight is the premiere of a new HBO documentary called The Weight of the Nation. This four-part documentary is a collaboration between HBO and the Institute of Medicine that basically serves to give Americans a wake up call about the dire consequences of this obesity epidemic we find ourselves facing.

You can watch the trailer below (or click here if the embedded video doesn’t work):


Tonight’s show is actually two parts – the first one looking at the consequences of the obesity epidemic and the second highlighting the science around how to lose weight, maintain it, and prevent weight loss. Parts 3 & 4 will air on May 15th.

Don’t worry, you don’t need HBO to watch the series. HBO will be streaming all four parts of the documentary here.

For more information, please click here.


If you watch, let me know what you think! Chances are I’ll be blogging about it at some point…

23 and a Half Hours

While catching up on Twitter yesterday, I came across a video via Runner’s World that I thought was too good NOT to share. It’s a “Visual Lecture” (basically someone draws/writes on a big white board while someone narrates) that delivers a very important and powerful message about health.

The video is a little long (9 minutes and 19 seconds to be exact) and starts a little slow, but I promise it’s worth it. Although I’m sure that most of you reading this blog probably already follow the doctor’s advice in your regular lives, I believe that the simple message is worth sharing.

Plus – by now you all know that I love stuff like this. THIS, my friends, is pretty much what my profession is all about.

So watch, discuss, and share widely.

ETA: If you can’t watch the embedded video, click here to view on YouTube

I watched this with EC last night and then proceeded to make him suggest he stand with me during the second half of the Breaking Bad episode we were watching (one more season to catch up on before the season 5 premiere. Think we’ll make it?!). I’m sure that I’m such a peach to date.

The Downside of December

Today, I was going to tell you about the shoes that are changing the way I run and making me cheat on my beloved Asics. Or about my re-commitment to lifting and my challenge for the month.

But whenever I sit down to write about anything lately, my mind is distracted. Especially now, on this first day of December, the last month of 2011. Because even though December and the Christmas season really is my favorite time of year, this year my excitement is mixed with something else that’s not quite so positive – anxiety.

December may mean Christmas trees, holiday parties, seeing family, and eating (lots and lots of eating), but it also means that I am now one month closer to losing my job. And during a month when holidays are on people’s minds more than working, prospects of finding a new one right now are looking a little dim.

I don’t blog about my work life a lot. Because I haven’t kept my name a secret on this blog, I’ve tried to keep all talk of my job out of it. But I can tell you that I work in public service, on grant funding. And even though grant funds are awesome and let you do great work, they always run out eventually. Since I don’t talk about work ever, I debated whether or not to even post this at all. Especially because I feel like I have seen so many posts lately about people being unexpectedly laid off and have watched them struggle to find something new. In my case, at least the end is expected. In fact, February 3rd, 2012 has been etched into my brain since the day I took this job over a year and a half ago.

You’d think the fact that I knew the end was coming would make it easier, but in reality it doesn’t. Back then, it seemed so far away. And everyone seemed so positive that there would be another way to keep my project team on. The work we were doing was important, so surely more money would be found; more positions created. I also figured that by that point, not only would I have completely figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but the economy would definitely be turned around. I was being funded by a grant meant to stimulate this economy, after all.

But here we are in December, 2 months before the end, and everyone has finally come to terms with the fact that there is no more money. And the economy still sucks. And I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, despite a master’s degree and more years of work experience. [I do, however, know a lot more about what I do not want to do, which I suppose is something.]


At this point, there is a very small chance that the grant I am working on will be extended for a few months, just to give us time to finish up work that has been delayed. This extension would obviously be a great thing, not only because we’d actually get to finish the project, but also because it would mean that I wouldn’t have to find a new job during the holidays. I like to think my chances of finding a job early next year are much better than finding one when people are focused on parties and vacations.

Ultimately I know that extension would only delay the inevitable. The fact is that I will be getting laid off soon. I won’t be getting a severance package or any sort of bonus pay that will make the transition more bearable. If I don’t have a job by Feb 3rd, there’s a good chance that this single girl and her pup might be knocking on your door, looking for a place to stay.

In order to not make this post completely negative, I can tell you that I’ve been trying to be proactive by cutting back where I can now, just in case. This is easier said than done in a month that is all about spending money. But EC and I have agreed to cap gifts to each other and I’ve delayed signing up for races that I really want to run (besides Boston, I have not yet signed up for one race in 2012, even though there are many others on my list). I even tried canceling cable the other day, but was unsuccessful.

If you’re wondering why I would ever want to do something like that OR how it is possible that I failed at it, I will just say: 1.) desperate times and 2.) early termination fees are no joke.

Anyway – it may not sound like it, but I’m trying not to let the dread of 2012 dampen the cheer of this last month of 2011. Overall, it’s been a great year. And I’m thankful for the fact that I’ve had a decent job with a steady paycheck to fund my expensive running and blogging hobbies. And I like to think that everything will work out. That this door closing will lead to another (better?) opportunity. And that a few months from now, the stress of impending unemployment will be nothing but a distant memory.


But if all else fails and I come knocking on your door in February, would you give me a place to stay? I promise to help clean, bake you cookies, and be a great running buddy.

And if you want to give me a job while you’re at it, I wouldn’t be opposed to that either.

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