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Stephanie Mencimer does a commendable job in showing how one of the biggest health issues in this country exacerbates itself given the inner-city conditions of poverty and all the disadvantages that go along with it (“Hiding in Plain Sight,” 6/16). Obesity seems to thrive in environments of neglect and institutional failure, and Mencimer is right to focus on the complexities of the issue—the compounding of poor education, overworked parents, lack of resources, and so on. At the same time, there is a strain of thought in Mencimer’s argument that is characteristic of modern urban life: the impulse to blame society and others for one’s own actions or behavior and the failure to take more responsibility for oneself. This tendency cuts across all socioeconomic levels; the author pointedly describes the “middle-class white teen” who would have been “showered with a wealth of feminist sympathy to remind her that her condition was not her fault but rather a symptom of society’s warped definitions of female beauty.” Easy enough, but in fact that is the kind of poisonous thinking that leads us to a paralysis of thought on how to improve our own lives or those of loved ones around us who need help and not soothing excuses blaming society’s failures.
On a more specific level, I deeply sympathize with those faced with the high costs of medical treatment—when and if absolutely needed—and the enormous personal challenge involved in breaking from the shackles of depression or inertia. But that makes it all the more rewarding. Take a walk through the Rock Creek Park—the best remedies in life are free, last I checked. Challenge yourself to walk or jog a little farther every day, and watch how the “noise” of modern life becomes just that.