Saturday, July 10, 2010

Squandering tax funds

This has got to be the biggest waste of taxpayer money in quite some time.
SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio is hoping to shed its image as one of the fattest cities in America by implementing new health and fitness programs.

The San Antonio Metro Health District is spearheading the multimillion dollar campaign that uses stimulus money granted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Prevention and Wellness Initiative.

"Over 40 cities got the grant," said Maggie Thompson, of the city's Health District. "San Antonio has been called a fat city for quite a while and we have received quite a bit of stimulus money to overcome that image and actually change the health of the city."
(from KSAT-12)

Really? Federal stimulus money is being spent in San Antonio so we can feel better about ourselves, so we don't have to live with the shame of being labeled one of the "fattest" cities?


First of all, let's think about the propriety of using of federal stimulus money to make all of us in San Antonio feel better about our image! Stimulus money is supposed to stimulate the national economy to get us out of a recession.

Let's repeat that: STIMULUS MONEY IS SUPPOSED TO STIMULATE THE ECONOMY! Not to make us feel good!

If the mayor truly wants to make San Antonio a fitter city, then make it a priority of City Council. Don't take federal money to make it that way. Let's do it ourselves without sucking from the federal government with borrowed money.

And now, let's think about that "fattest city" label. That's a ranking that is thrown out there every year by Men's Fitness magazine to get media attention and sell magazines, and the way they score each city is really not an indication of how individual people pursue their activities. In fact, some of the measurements make little sense at all.

Here are the scores the magazine gave San Antonio in 2009
Fitness Centers & Sport Stores: C
Nutrition: F+
Sports Participation: D+
TV Viewing: F+
Overweight/Sedentary: D
Junk Food: B+
Air Quality: F+
Geography: C-
Commute: C+
Parks & Open Space: F
City Rec Facilities: F+
Access to Healthcare: B
Motivation: C-
Mayor & City Initiatives: C-
State Obesity Initiatives: B
So, the people at Men's Fitness counted the number of fitness centers and sports stores, and a higher number means fitter people, I suppose. But is that necessarily true? I can think of any number of ways to get exercise and fresh air without having to spend money to go to a fitness center.

Then they measure nutrition. What nutrition are they measuring? Are they simply saying the prevalence of Mexican food in this town makes everybody fat? That sure is an insult to sensible people who can eat Mexican food and still work out to stay fit.

Then, sports participation. I didn't find how this was measured on the Men's Fitness website, but, really, does someone automatically become fat if they don't participate in organized sports? Again, there are many other ways to stay fit.

And then the old stereotype, TV viewing makes you a couch potato and therefore fat. Maybe in some cases, but are you really going to use Nielsen ratings to judge a whole city?

Overweight/sedentary [I assume they mean "lifestyle"] -- OK, this is a good measurement. Medical people actually track this stuff, and this may be a good indication as to a city's overall health. I'll give them this one.

Junk food -- Availability? Kinds available? Definition of what exactly is "junk food"? How often people eat it? This is a throwaway category. It means nothing.

Air quality -- WTF? Air pollution means you're fat? Even so, we have some bad pollution days in the summer, but the worst ones are actually when farmers in Mexico burn their fields each May and the smoke blows up across Texas! We have no control over this pollution, so why should we be called a "fattest city" because of it? This is a useless category.

Geography -- Again, WTF? "You built your city in the wrong spot, so we think you're fat." Sheesh.

Commute -- Maybe. I might give them this one. More walking and more bicycling generally means a fitter population, so I'm not really going to argue with this measurement.

Parks and open space and city rec facilities -- But I am going to argue with this one. The mere presence of parks and city facilities doesn't make one fitter. Usage of parks and open space might, but overall acreage doesn't.

Access to healthcare -- I actually agree with this measurement. The more someone goes to a doctor, the more likely they are to take care of themselves and remain as fit as possible. No problem here.

Motivation -- Big problem here. How the hell do you measure motivation?

Mayor, city, state initiatives -- Well, at least mayor JoaquĆ­n Castro is working on this one.

And, of course, there's a whole other list of condescending ways Men's Fitness piles on San Antonio for not doing things the way other cities do. Again, these are all mostly pointless.

San Antonio residents are 80 percent less likely than average to participate in yoga/tai chi. Compared to other cities, San Antonio is the 1st least popular place in our survey for these activities.

San Antonio residents are 85 percent less likely than average to participate in gymnastics, the lowest rate in our survey.

San Antonio residents rank near the bottom in cardio kickboxing, with a participation rate that's 80 percent below average for cities in our survey - the lowest participation rate of all cities we surveyed.


We may have more fat people than other cities, but so what? Staying fit is a personal choice, for the most part, and I don't have a problem with the mayor trying to encourage his constituents to get more fit. What I do have a problem with is the use of federal tax dollars to promote the mayor's agenda as part of the national effort to stimulate the economy.

And I think the Men's Fitness rating is bogus.

Bonus strangeness: The concept of an "F+" rating.


Charlene said...

The stimulus funds are the second decade's Homeland Security funds. After 9/11 all that money was given to every municipality in the country. Did they use it to set up ways to identify and control radical terrorists? No, they bought the police chief a new SUV. Now state budgets were balanced last year using them and this year it's reality time!

Pam said...

The stimulus funds you are talking about here are actually dedicated funds that have to be used for health related projects.
This is from an article in the San Antonio Business Journal, which is tracking the stimulus funds:

44 grants totaling $372.8 million as part of Health and Human Services’ Communities Putting Prevention to Work program

When money is dedicated by the federal government, states and cities have to use the money for that purpose.

Here is a link to the article

Albatross said...

When money is dedicated by the federal government, states and cities have to use the money for that purpose.

I know that. But the federal government doesn't have to allocate that money for those purposes in the first place, and I question the wisdom of using economic stimulus money to pay for anti-obesity programs.

And in the second place, states and cities are not required to accept the money.

Sabra said...

I question the wisdom of using economic stimulus money to pay for anti-obesity programs.

There you go again, insisting on applying logic...Hey, maybe the stimulus money will go toward buying someone to follow around our fattest residents and slap away the puffy tacos (me, I'd fight back). That'd create jobs, right?