Monday, February 20, 2012

E Pluribus Unum

Chapter VII in Survival of the Sickest really stood out to me in light of our extensive discussion of factors that may contribute to low-birth weight children. In particular, the fat mouse experiment at Duke which showed that a nutrient-dense diet during pregnancy can lead to a fat mouse giving birth to a skinny mouse. What else caught my attention was the fact that the first few days of conception may have important implications over the course of that child’s life. This struck me as just another factor that contributes to inequalities among society. We learned in lecture that the wealthy tend to plan their pregnancies more whereas the lower classes tend to have unplanned pregnancies. Assuming everybody takes equal precautions for better health during pregnancy, if lower classes don’t know they’re pregnant until further into it then they’re less likely to cut back on behaviors that may harm the fetus, such as smoking. This chapter also provided information about how being exposed to smoking can flip on or off certain genes, which could further harm the health of the fetus. This seems to imply that they have less of a chance to ensure that their children will have better health and the more the inequalities in society will continue. I was reminded of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers when it’s mentioned that “The more unequal are incomes in a society, the more pronounced will be the disadvantages to its better-off members from public expenditure, and the more resources will those members have [available to them] to mount political opposition” (Sapolsky, 380). While this particular passage is emphasizing that the wealthy in unequal societies will derive more of a benefit from spending on private goods than on public goods which further divides the society, there is still the idea that the wealthy can better afford prenatal care and can better plan for the birth of their children. This being the case and assuming that the first few days can have tremendous implications in epigenetics, then the wealthy continue to benefit the most. But it should be addressed that inequality in society has costs on both sectors of society since the wealthy are essentially isolating themselves from the rest of the society while everybody else has to live with the consequences of living in it. This is certainly the case in America with increasing income inequality. Although lower classes are harmed the most, it hurts all of society to have this inequality continued. I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s saying that “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Not only does income inequality negatively effect lower classes because of worse access to medical resources, poorer quality of foods, but as we read in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, being on a lower rung in the social hierarchy has negative effects psychologically which can manifest into having a negative physical impact. It makes me wonder, what if the fat mouse was provided a nutrient dense diet but also had to suffer stress? Would it still give birth to a skinny mouse? If so, that provides a glimmer of hope for preventing health complications and reducing inequalities.

On a completely different note, the Atlantic recently published an article that elaborates on T.gondii, the parasite carried by cats discussed in Chapter V of Survival of the Sickest It’s weird to think that something as innocuous as a housecat may actually be impacting our mental health.

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