Libraries: Good For the Waistline

Picture 208This is a half thought out mash-up of two things that crossed my path this week. The first was the article in the Wall Street Journal “The Web-Deprived Study at McDonald’s“. Which covers what many of us already know – the digital divide is real, 33 million American’s do not have broadband service at home.

Cheap smartphones and tablets have put Web-ready technology into more hands than ever. But the price of Internet connectivity hasn’t come down nearly as quickly. And in many rural areas, high-speed Internet through traditional phone lines simply isn’t available at any price. The result is a divide between families that have broadband constantly available on their home computers and phones, and those that have to plan their days around visits to free sources of Internet access.

That divide is becoming a bigger problem now that a fast Internet connection has evolved into an essential tool for completing many assignments at public schools. Federal regulators identified the gap in home Internet access as a key challenge for education in a report in 2010. Access to the Web has expanded since then, but roughly a third of households with income of less than $30,000 a year and teens living at home still don’t have broadband access there, according to the Pew Research Center.

“It is increasingly hard to argue that out-of-school access doesn’t matter,” said Doug Levin, executive director of a national group of state education technology directors. “There’s a degree of frustration about the speed with which we’re moving.”

As librarians we know that people without home internet access and/or computers often turn to their local public libraries, as OITP notes in their response to the WSJ article

Unfortunately, because of the economic downturn affecting so many families and causing some to discontinue Internet access, public libraries also are feeling the stress. This past year, 57 percent of public libraries reported they had flat or reduced operating budgets, and in the previous year 23 states, including Joshua’s, reported cuts in state funding. Although public libraries may want to increase hours, upgrade Internet speeds, add computers, provide mobile services and serve as community Wi-Fi hotspots, they face significant challenges.

But when libraries are closed students head to other alternatives and the WSJ says that those Wi-fi hot spots are often in McDonald’s or Starbucks

The children and teenagers huddled over their devices at McDonald’s Corp. restaurants and Starbucks Corp. coffee shops across the country underscore the persistence of the Internet gap in education. McDonald’s has 12,000 Wi-Fi-equipped locations in the U.S., and Starbucks has another 7,000. Together, that is more than the roughly 15,000 Wi-Fi-enabled public libraries in the country.

As a frequent user of Wi-Fi in coffee shops I do feel I should by something but *try* to go for a low calories option, not always easy when there are baked goodies and yummy drinks staring me in the face. Despite my best intentions I often end up buying something and the same is true for those students. See where the waistline part of this is going?

According to the CDC on childhood obesity:

  • Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.
  • Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.
  • There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence among U.S. children and adolescents. In 2007—2008, Hispanic boys, aged 2 to 19 years,were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys, and non-Hispanic black girls were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls.

And adult obesity

  • More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese.
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

Now I don’t know what is happening in your state but here in Iowa there is a drive to make Iowa the Healthiest State

The Healthiest State Initiative is a privately led public initiative intended to inspire Iowans and their communities throughout the state to improve their health and happiness. To achieve our goal, individuals, families, businesses, faith-based organizations, not-for-profits and the public sector will unite in a community-focused effort to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

It is estimated to allow the state to redirect about $16 billion away from medical care to grow the state economy over the next 5 years. Now granted this is a privately not publicly funded initiative and I had a hard time finding data on who is funding (ok maybe I only searched for 15 minutes) but Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is kicking in $25 million.

I know some libraries offer coffee and food services but surely libraries are a healthier place for students to study than McDonald’s. I also realize libraries cannot be open 24/7 but I still think that the argument could be made that in a state looking to improve the health of its population some funding should go to support local public libraries and the many public health services they offer, not just the freedom from the temptation of french fries.

Disclaimer: I am not a health or fitness expert but I do know McDonald’s fries are delicious and tempting 


5 thoughts on “Libraries: Good For the Waistline

  1. what a great post! I am grateful for McD’s wifi when I am on the road, as I do not have a smart phone and McD’s wifi gives me a chance to check email or directions if I’m lost in the middle of nowhere. But yes, I generally order something fattening, because I feel like if I’m using their free wifi, I should be buying something too.



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