Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Can the housing affordability crisis cause obesity in young women?

Obesity: the new crisis for women - Health - Specials - smh.com.au

It sounds a little strange, but the last 7 years have seen an upswing in obesity in 20-something year old women. By a coincidence, that maps to the recent so-called 'housing boom' upswing. Some of the prime culprits appear to be the amount of time young women must spend in sedentary jobs to meet their costs of living (i.e. increased housing costs), and their often very long commute times to get to their place of work. Both these problems are artifacts of over-expensive housing and inequitable allocation.

More than half of middle-aged women are also revealed as being overweight in the study, which highlights greater female participation in the workforce, longer hours spent behind desks, and increasing difficulty balancing work and family commitments as key reasons for the unhealthy trends.

"It's astounding," said Christina Lee, the co-ordinator of the Commonwealth-funded study, which will follow the fortunes of the same 40,000 women for at least another decade. "The younger women have already caught up with the older generation. We are going to have higher rates of heart disease and diabetes."

The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health - launched by the federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, yesterday - found that women in their mid to late 20s weighed an average 67.4 kilograms in 2003, compared with 62.6 kilograms when the same women were weighed in 1996. The weight of women in their early 50s had risen an average 2.4 kilograms to 71 kilograms over a five-year interval.

The young women's weight would inevitably climb even further, as only one in three had already had children - and pregnancy and new motherhood were typically times of major weight gain, said Christina Lee, who is professor of health psychology at the University of Queensland. Women gained weight "after getting married, moving from study into work, making those transitions into adulthood … perhaps they give up playing netball with their friends on a Friday night".

"You feel a bit wrong, the way you feel in clothes," said the 19-year-old receptionist. She spends more than two hours travelling by train between her home in Penrith and her city office every day. Work is hectic so she tends to choose fast food - "Hungry Jack's, Coke, sometimes I'll grab a bag of chips for lunch if I'm flat out".

By the time she gets home it is dark and she is "just too tired to exercise, and I don't have time to prepare a decent meal to take with me the next day … I'm trying to lose weight now but it's hard to find time or energy. Gyms can be really expensive, too."

So, in other words, the Commonwealth govt is commissioning studies showing these problems and highlighting them as a dreadful health risk, and on the other hand, doing nothing about housing affordability, including making housing affordable closer to where people work, preferring to just 'leave it to the market', except when they actively work to fuel housing price inflation by generous negative gearing benefits and low capital gains tax. State govts also have no interest in 'key worker' placement or changing the pattern of very expensive, cramped real estate near the high rise cities where the jobs are, and the fact of people having to commute from places like Penrith or the mid-North coast due to affordability reasons. Instead, they conveniently leave it to 'the market' to allocate housing, and watch and laugh as people die from diabetes and heart disease at ever younger ages, have children at ever older ages, but then wring their hands in public with these studies. That's how much your governments really care.

But remember, Peter Costello wants you to 'have 3 children, one for the mother, one for the father, and one for your country'. As though your country really cares for you, when all it wants to do is exploit you as a unit of labour and to make a developer or landlord wealthy in retirement.

Yes, "It's astounding", as Christina Lee said.

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