21 August 2014

Thursday Reflections | Class, Work, and Exercise

Researchers recently presented findings from analyzing the 2005-2006 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in San Francisco at the American Sociological Association. They found that college-educated workers moved more on weekends while workers with a high school diploma or less moved more during the week. The study lead author, Jarron Saint Onge, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, pointed out why this is so: "work-related activity [for less-educated, working-class people] tends to be low intensity and typically involves repetitive motions that can have harmful health effects." 

Woo, HIIT!

I concur, to a point. Why this study is sociological rather than medical points to the correlation of education and socioeconomic class. In general, less educated people have lower-paying, working-class jobs. More educated people have higher-paying, white-collar jobs. I am from a bourgeois family and I have an Ivy League degree, yet I chose to work at Whole Foods for about nine months last year (2013). I should now pursue a PhD in sociology because of all the informal fieldwork I conducted as a cashier (I'd rather have a PhD in religion, though). This study struck a chord with me because the conclusion seemed obvious, given my experience. Sure, as a cashier one has to lift bags and items, push carts and stacks of baskets, and generally move around more than one has to while typing at a desk all day. However, all that standing knocks you out. I slept more soundly yet for fewer hours than I ever had in my life. My aunt and uncle and several friends can corroborate this. Which brings me to another point.

Sure, the debatable "continuous motion" theory (id est, bursts of acitvity throughout the day are better for one's health than a single solid exercise session) would support that less educated/blue collar workers are somewhat more fit (?) than more educated/white collar workers who are more active on weekends. However, in the long run, shift work and blue collar work is hard, a lot harder than educated people give it credit, and brings some pretty tough problems. For one, laborious (and often shift) work is linked to higher rates of sleep disorders, heart disease, and exposure to more dangerous working conditions.

Besides the tough job conditions and requirements, there's the social prejudice, as this Ask Men article states nicely:

Like it or not, many people look down on blue-collar workers. This never ceases to amaze me because the first person anyone calls when they have a problem with their house, car or appliance, is a blue-collar worker! Talk about the epitome of hypocrisy.

Also, the linkage of socioeconomic status with blue-collar jobs with an overtone of lack of education is just demeaning to a certain type of intelligence: in a phrase, street smarts. Mike Rose, UCLA education scholar, presents a variation of this thesis in his book, Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker. Lack of street smarts and practical knowledge is why book smart people need someone to fix their car, appliance, or house! I was an awful cashier--slow ring time, not sure of how to deal with customer issues--until I put the drive with which I pursued formal education into learning from my coworkers how to be an excellent customer service representative.

Another point on education and intelligence: the ability to excel in formal education is not correlated with the ability to succeed in life. I shouldn't have to cite innovators and entrepreneurs--because they are household names--who have built successful businesses and been able to accomplish something life-enriching without being a product of higher education.

Returning to health matters, awareness that exercise is beneficial and that one should eat more veggies does come from one's educational system (and television and the Internet, though Internet-gained knowledge is more self-directed). I don't believe that people lack the drive to incorporate healthy habits into their lives; I believe they lack the education. Besides school, where else do people spend a good deal (1/3 of a 24-hour day) of their time?

At work.

Corporate wellness programs provide education, accountability, and guidance for employers to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism, lower premiums, and minimize attrition. While further discussion of corporate wellness programs is a subject for another post, here's what's up: corporate wellness programs save employers money and improve the quality of life of employees.

That's that for today, everyone. Recipes next time.

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