Wed. Jun 12th, 2024

On Wednesday, Jan. 3 in Sykes 245, West Chester faculty from a wide variety of disciplines kicked off the first lecture of a series of weekly lunch-hour lectures on topics related to the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability. Professor Aliza Richman, assistant professor of sociology, held her talk “Wastelines and the Recession: An Expanding Tale of BMI During the Great Recession.” It detailed her research pertaining to public health in relation to the economic downturn in the United States.

Open to the general public and presented by the Office of Sustainability, these weekly lectures highlight the research being done at WCU and create a forum to educate people on sustainability as an interdisciplinary concept.

Richman has been working on this research for the past year and will be presenting her findings at the Populations Association of America, an internationally renowned demography conference. She will also be writing a paper to be submitted for publication on the same topic.

She started the presentation off by stating how her research ties into sustainability by utilizing the UN’s sustainable development goals. These are “17 interrelated goals, that speak to climate change, social inequality, economic inequality and social justice.” She states that her research focuses on “decent work and economic growth,” the eighth UN sustainability goal and its connection to the third goal, “Good health and well-being.”

According to Richman, these two goals work to create a sense that sustainability is “above and beyond the environmental factors of climate change, which we know to be threats to humanity.” In the Agenda for Sustainable Development it states that it is “determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path” in a variety of areas.

Her research follows average body mass index (BMI) scores through the economic recession which began in 2007. It examines how a person’s health can be affected by economic downturns and also how such conditions can influence the sustainability of health and well-being.

Richman argued that it is “important to look at obesity, and what it means for human health and the economic repercussions of caring for obese individuals within a population.” Obese individuals are more likely to have “comorbidity, which is the presence of one or more diseases co-occuring with the primary disease.”

Obesity can be “related to heart disease, stroke, type two diabetes, osteoarthritis, some cancers and even an increased risk of mortality.” Comorbidity then “involves multiple elements of the medical community, with multiple treatments of conditions, and over a prolonged period of time increasing medical costs.”

Being obese is not cheap. Looking at the mean total of medical expenditures for obese individuals, they spend approximately $5,100 annually on their medical care, and 36 percent of the United States’ population is obese. Underweight individuals also share high healthcare costs but make up only 1.6 percent of the United States. Richman states that with these statistics “we have to start thinking of the sustainability of a physically growing population and the effects of these increasing expenditures on the state of mental health care in this country.”

She then furthers this research by looking at statistical information comparing different ethnicities and genders in times of economic downturn.

The director of the Office of Sustainability, Bradley Flamm, also says, “The three things I think are important about this series . . . one I think is that it highlights the fact sustainability is not a topic of a single discipline.” He likes the fact that they have “a sociologist, a biologist, a chemist, a geologist, a public management specialist, people from all kinds of academic disciplines.” But “all of them are looking at environmental and economic sustainability, from slightly different angles, but they’re keeping those principles of sustainability in mind in their research.”

He finds “it really fascinating to come every week, to hear people talk about sustainability in ways that I wouldn’t of thought.” He is excited about the roster presenters this year “because it is not just faculty, we also have professionals, who are coming from our facility’s department and some of the architects and designers and engineers that they work with, to make the buildings and features of our campus more sustainable.”

There are two talks scheduled for Feb. 14, which are going to be looking at the buildings on campus and highlighting the commons building to be under construction this summer. The other presentation is happening on the very last lecture on April 25, which is on a couple of consultants who worked with the university for the landscape master plan.

A faculty member affiliated with the Office of Sustainability who was in attendance said “[these lectures cover] all facets of sustainability, like not just having one discipline at this university, it’s all over, and then we have staff too that are presenting.” She also highlighted the different initiatives the Office of Sustainability is implementing around campus, like the idea for more compost bins on campus and about having smaller trash bins in offices to create a conversation about the waste production on campus.

“If you have a teeny tiny trash can that attaches to [a recycling bin], then you would be more aware of the waste you are producing.” Having tinier trash cans can potentially make people think about creating less waste “by bringing their lunch more, use reusable containers, or don’t buy disposable coffee cups.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 21 the Environmental Film and Lecture series will commence at 7 p.m. in Mitchell 102. The remote lecture will be presented by Judith D. Schwartz, grazing expert and author of “Cows save the planet and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the Earth.” Her discussion will include desertification, droughts, floods, loss of biodiversity, obesity, potential solutions for climate change and malnutrition. To find out more visit the Sierra Club website.

On Saturday, March 10 the Chester County Beekeepers Association 2018 Conference is requesting volunteers and student or faculty members to work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Merion Science Center. Volunteer duties will include working registration, distributing door prizes like plants and merchandise and parking lot directing. All volunteers will be given lunches and shifts that are either full or half-day. For those interested, they can contact Justin Shiffler at Information is also available at

On Friday, March 2 the Office of Sustainability and the Sustainability Advisory Council will be hosting the Brandywine Staff Sustainability Workshop from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Phillips Lower Level Conference Room. This event will include a light breakfast and lunch, networking opportunities, interactive workshop sessions and a campus sustainability tour.

Registration information can be found by visiting the PASSHE Academy website.

Emily Rodden is a second-year student majoring in anthropology. ✉

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