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An Obligation to be Healthy

November 28, 2012

In the four plus years I’ve been writing in my blog and floating around the wider Fatosphere (see what I did there?) I’ve read and agreed with the many posts that focus on how we do not have an obligation to be healthy; we don’t owe anyone health. Our bodies, our business, right? Unless we’re at the doctor’s office for something, noone and nothing should be commenting on our weight and by proxy, our health. Then I had a thought-do I not owe my children my best efforts to maintain my health, and if so, what does that mean?

Luckily I’ve been a pretty healthy person in my life; I’ve never broken a bone or suffered a major illness or injury. Other than the two c-sections needed to bring my kids into this world I’ve rarely ever needed time off work or school because of my health. My genes have blessed me (so far) with little worse than bad eyesight and a plump body. I know there’s a history of breast cancer in the family, but whether or not I get cancer isn’t really up to me, so I try not to worry about it too much. Through the years I’ve resisted the temptations to drink, smoke and do drugs, so I haven’t been messing up my body with that either. Other than being average size, that is to say small-fat, and still recovering from Kat’s surgery, I’m as healthy as a horse. (If you haven’t read Kat’s birth story you can do so HERE. It’s a doozy!)

Still, could I be doing more? Should I be doing more? Don’t I owe it to my kids to be in the best condition I can be in, for as long as possible? What about my husband? Shouldn’t I be doing everything I can so we can spend as much time together on this earth as possible? I can’t speak to what any other person might think or feel, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to agree with me, but sometimes I do feel like I have an obligation to be healthy. My life isn’t just mine; I share it with three other people I love very much, plus my extended family of well, family, and close friends. To me this means taking care of myself, not just for me and because I love myself, but because of them.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on my dream of riding motorcycle across Canada, or trying hang-gliding, or doing other adventursome things. This doesn’t mean I’m going to change how I eat or act on a day to day basis. It doesn’t really mean anything, except that I have a different perspective now.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2012 1:59 pm

    This is a really huge topic for me. From a human rights and political perspective, I’d say no, nobody has an obligation to be healthy. But I’ve seen first hand what bad health in old age from preventable causes (e.g. smoking) can do, not just to that person, but to the people around them. It’s terrifying, emotionally, financially and physically. Modern medicine is cruel, in that conditions that used to kill people aren’t deadly any more and can keep people living for a LONG time in very reduced physical circumstances. None of us live in isolation – our choices impact on everybody around us so yes, I do think a responsible person should think a bit about their health, especially if they have kids.

    But I also believe that bodily autonomy is sacrosanct. Nobody has the right to interfere in the body of another person (except under very, very unusual and special medical circumstances). So I guess I’m holding two contradictory ideas at once.

    In an ideal world, people should have access to the tools and knowledge they need to live the best life they can, for their own happiness, but if they don’t, for whatever reason, then a just and humane society has to be there to pick up the pieces – no questions asked.

    • JeninCanada permalink
      November 28, 2012 3:24 pm

      I love that you’re able to hold two ideas in your head at the same time. Many people cannot. Modern medicine IS cruel in that way, isn’t it? The people who linger on past hope thanks to degenerative diseases are literally just waiting to die. The right to a dignified death is one we’re fighting for here in Canada. As for the ideal world, it’s not here yet but we’re working on it!

  2. November 28, 2012 2:19 pm

    I don’t have kids myself, but coming from the other side I have to admit that my parents are the only people in the world that I try to push toward healthy behavior. Actively push, yes, as in suggesting going for walks on the beach when I visit, or asking Mom whether or not she’s been to the doctor to have her thyroid levels checked, and if she hasn’t I make an appointment for two (or three, depending if my Gran needs one too), or asking Dad to maybe consider not having the steak for dinner if we’re eating out (he has high BP).

    I think as children we just want our parents to stick around, and are a little more willing to push our moral boundaries in order to achieve it. I’d never do anything like this to my friends, or other relatives, or even worse, strangers, and I’m well aware of the double standard. But what can I say- they’re my parents!

    • JeninCanada permalink
      November 28, 2012 3:26 pm

      I too gently nudge my parents about things now and then-when my mom was smoking, for her to quit, for my dad to cut back on the booze. I made the mistake once of asking my mother about her yearly wellness visits and she basically told me to MYOB. Sure mom, I’ll mind my own business, but I get to say ‘I told you so’ if you end up with cancer that could’ve been caught and treated earlier. 😛

      • November 28, 2012 6:03 pm

        Yeah, I have to push my Mom a lot harder than anyone else, but… Well, let’s just say she avoids going to the doctor to the point of where she was walking on a hip so destroyed by her early-onset rheumatoid arthritis that it looked like someone had taken a hearty bite out of an apple on the x-rays. She was walking on it taking maybe two Tylenol a day!

        If I join her in the visit to the doctor, saying that I’m the one needing to get my levels checked she’ll suddenly be all over the idea. She’s really, really old-fashioned, anything-for-the-kids in that way.

      • November 29, 2012 6:43 am

        It’s not even the terminal illnesses that are so terrifying. It’s the ones that go on and on and on and just destroy quality of life, like renal problems, heart problems, blood pressure problems etc.

        I gave this some thought and decided there is definitely one area where people are obliged to take care of themselves – transplant patients and people who require intensive medical care. There are people who treat hospital like a revolving door, who get care that is very scarce or expensive, or highly stressful for the people administering it. Once they’re better, they go straight back to behaviors like not taking vital medication or smoking. That’s a slap in the face for the people who worked so hard to save them.

  3. November 28, 2012 4:25 pm

    As a parent, I feel a responsibility to be around for my kids and as a wife, I want to be there for my husband, so in that respect, yes, I think there is some obligation to care of oneself for the people in your life…HOWEVER – I think the idea of having an obligation to be healthy [or as healthy as possible] has sort of morphed from wanting to be there for your loved ones – to owing society. And that, I have to disagree with, especially since what society considers ‘healthy’ behaviors are very often not all that good for us, such as extreme dieting or extreme exercising or the all encompassing need to be thin and wear your thinness as a badge of health. I’ve actually been working on a speech to give my doctor the next time I’m bombarded with the ‘healthy lifestyle’ speech:

    I do have a healthy lifestyle. I don’t smoke, drink or use recreational drugs and I never have. I walk for pleasure. I hold a job and I very rarely take sick days. I wake up in the morning and look forward to my day. I eat three meals a day and snacks and I enjoy my food. I have a good relationship with my husband and my children. I have good friends and a hobby that keeps my mind active. I have pets I love and care for. I keep my house [reasonably] clean and take pride in my home and in my appearance. I actually consider myself to be happy – which is a far cry from the lifestyles many people I know are leading. If the only unhealthy thing about me is my weight – I’d say I’m doing a helluva lot better than most people. I will consider it my obligation to be perfect just as soon as everyone else in the world is also perfect.

    • JeninCanada permalink
      November 29, 2012 12:17 am

      That is an excellent response for your doctor and I hope s/he simply flips your chart closed upon hearing it and says “Wonderful! Have a nice day.”

  4. lsstrout permalink
    November 29, 2012 7:28 pm

    This is a tough one because where does society’s obligation to take care of someone who doesn’t want to take care of themselves end? If someone trashes their liver through alcohol abuse do they get a new one? What if they say they won’t change their drinking habits? Is a family obligated to pay for the medical bills of someone who keeps getting more ill because they won’t follow the doctor’s instructions? I don’t know the answers to these, I don’t think there is ever one right answer. None of us live in a vacuum. I do think unless you are talking to a close friend or family member, or you are a medical professional, you should shut the hell up about the other person’s choices.

  5. December 1, 2012 3:38 pm

    Asking if there’s an obligation to be healthy rides on the premise that there is a thing called Healthy that we can define, agree on, and make rational decisions about separate from our other values. None of that is true. Healthy doesn’t exist. Furthermore, whatever vague (and vaguely controlling) idea IS meant by health is something that most people are already achieving for themselves. Who makes decisions with the sole purpose of damaging their health? No one? If I am a smoker, for example, I’m not doing it for the sole fun of risking my health. I have reasons. MY reasons. To say that I should stop doing it (for the kids!) is to supplant my values for someone else’s. That doesn’t make me a better person or the world a better place, regardless of what it does to my “health”. Of all the people in the world, I daresay that I care the MOST about my own health. If I am doing something that risks it, you can be certain that they are important reasons. If you’re willing to get on a motorcycle, not get screened often for breast cancer, not drink 1-2 glasses of wine daily, not eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and for goodness sakes, if you DRIVE, then you’ve kind of answered your own question: no, you’re under no obligation to be as “healthy” as possible. Obviously, some other things are as important or even more so than our current visions of “health.

    • Kala permalink
      December 2, 2012 11:26 am

      “Healthy doesn’t exist”

      This is taking the acceptance philosophy too far. If you want to partake in practices that are known to have significant risk to or directly damage health, go on ahead Issa. But this message of yours is absolutely untrue and is at best useless and at worst harmful. Not to mention your “logic” is broken all over the place.

      But I’ll be honest, I would expect as much from a woman who wanted to have a freebirth.

      • JeninCanada permalink
        December 2, 2012 12:36 pm

        Healthy doesn’t exist as a standard 1 size fits all solution, that’s for sure, but there are some things I think we can agree are or are not condusive to health. Certain things are definitely more risky than others; for example riding a motorcycle is much more dangerous to my health than not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Driving is much more dangerous than having a baby (nevermind how you choose to have that baby).
        Kala I would ask you to not judge Issa for her birth choices; like she said, she has her reasons for doing what she does with her own body, and another woman’s labour and delivery are absolutely none of your business.

        • Kala permalink
          December 2, 2012 1:27 pm

          It’s none of my business even though she put it out on a publicly posted blog? She blogs about her alt lifestyle and she’s so sanctimonious she has a snark following.

          And no, I don’t have a particular level of respect for people who support homebirth, especially freebirth in the USA. It’s idiotic and I’m not sorry for a second if that offends anyone. I keep equal disdain for anti-vaxxers, and people who give homeopathic remedies to their children and pets. If you want to be anti-establishment about everything, and grab at alt-med solutions to your problems, feel free to have at it. But I have exactly zero respect for people who subject innocent parties to it (babies, children, pets).

          • JeninCanada permalink
            December 2, 2012 5:43 pm

            This is getting off topic but I want to point out that for low-risk moms, homebirth is as safe as hospital birth. If you want sources i can provide them. Or maybe it is on topic bc women need to make informed decisions for their health, and that of their child, before, during and after labour.

            Everyone gets to decide for themselves what they’ll do with their own bodies, but the game changes when others are involved,

            • Kala permalink
              December 3, 2012 11:55 am

              I’m familiar with the research that’s out there, and I think your point is questionable given the quality of the papers that are out there. Of course there’s also the element of a low risk pregnancy becoming a high risk birth at the last minute, and a home environment simply isn’t sufficient for that. If women want to undertake that risk, go on ahead, but I will absolutely judge them for it.

              • JeninCanada permalink
                December 3, 2012 12:03 pm

                I think you’re missing the point; your judgement of others for their choices, whatever those are, isn’t helpful or welcome, especially in this space. You don’t have to like what other people do with their bodies, but you do have to respect those choices. You and I don’t get to tell other people what they can and can’t do with their own bodies. It’s none of our business. Your attitude is quickly sliding from ‘mildly concerned’ to ‘concern-troll’ / preachy and sanctimonious.

          • Fab@54 permalink
            December 3, 2012 12:09 pm

            That is a really rude and shitty way to get your Off Topic (opposing) views out there. You don’t need to remind us that you don’t care about who you offend… your post makes that abundantly clear.
            Why are you attacking someone personally, for something that is not even a part of this discussion?
            Wow, Kala, you need to walk that back a bit and rethink your “right” to judge other people’s personal choices and lifestyles. That is exactly the sort of attitude *we* have all been trying to overcome in S/FA and here at FFF….

      • Issa Waters permalink
        December 3, 2012 1:45 pm

        Wow. That was a really unexpected direction. What I mean by “Healthy doesn’t exist” is that you can’t take all the things that relate to mental health, physical health, psychological health, spiritual health, inter-relational health, financial health, etc and lump them all into this one thing called Health and then decide “Yes or No”. I think birthing choices are a good example. I’ll stipulate that birthing in the hospital has the best infant mortality rate. Is that the one and only thing that matters forever and ever amen? No matter what the effect on the mother? The other effects on the baby? I say no. I say that people are allowed to have different values, priorities, preferences, cultures, histories, needs, abilities and desires, even it those things conflict with our current cultural obsession with a narrowly defined Health.

  6. vesta44 permalink
    December 4, 2012 12:24 am

    “Health” isn’t something that we can define for anyone but ourselves. There are too many dimensions to it, too many intersectionalities, for “health” to have one hard and fast definition for everyone. I’m 59, fat, disabled, yet I consider myself “healthy” within my definition of “health”. In spite of the fact that I have mobility issues, I have chronic pain issues, I have issues with that failed WLS, etc, etc, etc – I don’t get sick that often, maybe a cold once or twice a year that only lasts a week or so. I don’t have any of the diseases that are correlated with being fat, unless you count arthritis (but even thin people get that, so……). I could die any day now, but not because of my “health” or lack of it. The fact that I drive a car (minivan, actually) means that every time I get in that van, I could die. The fact that I used to smoke means I could still end up with cancer and die. The fact that I used to drink, heavily, when I was younger, means I could end up with some disease that could kill me. Hell, I could slip and fall in the shower and end up more disabled than I currently am. That does not mean I’m not doing everything I can to maintain the “health” I have now – if that were the case, I wouldn’t be taking all the vitamins/supplements I’m currently taking. But that also doesn’t mean that I’m going to quit driving just so I don’t have the risk of getting hurt/dying in a car accident. It’s my decision what risks I’m willing to take with my life, and no one has the right to judge me for those decisions – not my husband, not my son, not any of my relatives, and certainly not some stranger that knows nothing about me or my life.

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