Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bad Sugar, Good Discussion

This week marked our official half-way point in the Russell Library’s 2009 Unnatural Causes Film & Discussion Series – four weeks closer to a better understanding of the social determinants of health in our community! Our focus this week was Episode 4: Bad Sugar, which centers on the exceptionally high instance of Type 2 diabetes among the O’odham Indians in southern Arizona. Researchers suggest that the instance of disease in this Native American community is the direct result of decades of poverty and oppression. This week’s panelists made clear that many of the same problems exist in the Athens community and have resulted in diabetes becoming an increasingly important local issue.

We had four panelists this week, all with great research and outreach experiences that connected to this topic: Dr. Claude Burnett (Director, Northeast Georgia Health District), Connie Crawley (UGA College of Family & Consumer Sciences), Melanie Cassity (Diabetes Education Center, ARMC), and Dr. Alex Anderson (UGA College of Family & Consumer Sciences). The talented Delene Porter, Director of the Athens Area Community Foundation (also known as One Athens) served as moderator for this discussion.

Some Memorable Moments of Discussion…

All of the panelists put an emphasis on the importance of preventative medicine. Dr. Burnett pointed out that the U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other developed nation, but typically has worse outcomes than most others. He suggested that if we shifted how this money is spent and put a premium on preventative and primary care then those outcomes could change dramatically.

In speaking about Type 2 diabetes specifically, Dr. Anderson discussed that this is a disease that runs in families, but went on to say that maintaining a good diet, regular exercise, and an overall healthy lifestyle can delay the onset of the disease for many years. If people can prolong the disease they can save their bodies years of additional stress.

Connie Crawley described her own healthy lifestyle to the crowd: homemade meals, daily workouts, stress-free car rides to and from work. Her point: not everyone has the time or the means to live such a life, but making small changes to daily routines can lead to better health.

Melanie Cassity, a diabetes educator here in Athens, emphasized that the film truly resonated with her because she sees many of the same circumstances and outcomes everyday in our community. She suggested that there are great resources available to people in need, but part of the struggle is putting various aid organizations in touch with one another to make the overall process of seeking help easier for the individual.

In responding to a suggestion from the audience, that physical activity should be mandated in public schools, the entire panel expressed agreement that children should be encouraged to exercise at an early age. Cassity made another good point -- that children often imitate what they see at home. If their family members encourage playing video games and couch-sitting, or other barriers prevent them from outdoor exercise (unsafe neighborhoods, lack of walking paths, etc.) then habits learned in school won’t necessarily carry over and make a lasting impact. You have to make comprehensive shifts in lifestyle and habits, not just in a single sector of a child’s life, which takes the involvement of adults as well as children.

Dr. Burnett also described the resources offered by the local health department to combat high blood pressure (hypertension) – specifically a $30 program that provides an exam and all medications for a 6-month period. An amazing resource in preventative medicine - and one of many offered by the health department (click here for more).

Our panelists were great and brought with them an array of informational handouts on local resources for diabetes and other related diseases – we’ll have these available at the remaining events in the series! Speaking of…the next program, Episode 5: Place Matters, will take place this coming Sunday, April 26th at 3 p.m. at the Athens Clarke County Public Library (2025 Baxter Street, Athens, GA 30606). This episode takes us into two neighborhoods on the west coast to examine what policies and investment decisions create living environments that harm or enhance the health of residents. For more information on this program and our next batch of panelists, visit http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/exhibits/uncauses/events.shtml or call (706) 542-5788.

To read a recap of this event from The Red & Black, click here.

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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