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Friday, 25 November 2011

Black Friday – Commercialism, entrepreneurialism and the public’s health

Hopefully ,  few of you arose early enough to camp out for the store openings.  Perhaps it is fortunate in Canada the November weather really is not conducive to standing outside. So this phenomenon may be predominately a US problem.   While 90% of the  blog followers are Canadian, 5% are from the US and the remaining 5%f from a wide variety of locations globally. 
The concept of Black Friday deserves scrutiny, and at least somebody asking the question what is the cost on personal and population health? 
It was not too long ago that store hours were restricted to less than a full week. Hours were limited to the daylight.  Then brilliance prevailed,  and stores became more consumer friendly in their access (health care may get there yet but is decades behind in Canada, further ahead to the south).   But, there might be a limit.  Stores are operating with special hours on the biggest shopping day in the US.  The upcoming Xmas hours take often lower paid workers away from their families, disrupt their daily routines, and teeter on the edges of labour laws.  Some stores will now even operate 24 hours a day until Christmas.
On one side of the argument is why the heck?  Is this abuse of workers and unnecessary?  The other side says it is more money into the hands of workers seeking employment, more stimulation of the economy, more purchasing of products – and a dollar spent is a dollar earned somewhere to be spent in stimulating the economy further. Hence overall a good thing, right? 
We know shift work is dangerous to one’s health.  It is classified as a probable carcinogen according to IARC IARC monograph on shift work .   So at a minimum, nighttime work hours is not a good thing for individual health.  We also know that economically vibrant communities have healthier populations and that is very positive at a population level .  If the extended hours did not result in more sales, then most businesses would not offer them – so something of an economic good must be happening.  Does the balance favour better or worse public health?
Perhaps we need to reassess the root issues our consumerism driven society.  Many economist will argue it is the efforts of small entrepreneurial business that leads to sustainable growth.  Just as an observation, I don’t see many small businesses opening at 4 am.  Big business is under the microscope, but who is looking into the lens?   With the so called one percent retaining 25% of the income, unlikely that they are representing the views of small business.  And the diversity of small businesses lend resilience to a community's health and economy.
Are we stifling our economic growth, and consequently our population health by acquiescing to consumerism?  Perhaps more importantly, is anybody concerned with the public’s health actually measuring the consequences of this trend?
I’ll do my part and will not be lined up when the doors open, perhaps I may avoid those stores that propagate an unhealthy behavior that seems to be creeping north across the border. 

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