Thursday, August 02, 2012

Riddle Me This

This week I was listening to a podcast of a Tavis Smiley Show (you can see it here).  It is an interview with the heart experts and authors of Heart 411, Dr. Steven Nissen and Dr. Marc Gallinov.  During the interview these words were spoken (at the 4:16 mark for those who are impatient) "...[A]ctually...poverty and health are interrelated.  Poor people tend to have worse diets, because the availability of these inexpensive foods is a major driver of why they are so popular..."  In other words (or actually the same words - lack of money leads to unhealthy choices).  The authors and the interviewer went on to talk about a variety of topics - myths about heart healthy activities (like taking an aspirin a day), good things to do to maintain good heart health, and how universal health care would be helpful (or not).  I liked the interview and I learned a few things along the way.  But I came away stymied by the fact that despite an interview that touched on a variety of subjects none of the people there either asked or attempted an answer to the question that since poverty and health are interrelated what might some answers look like that might reduce the number of people in poverty (and this, of course, according to their studies, would reduce the number of people with health problems and thus reduce the strain and cost on our health care system).  I posed this question to a friend of mine in the health care profession this afternoon and asked him why no one seems to be talking about possible solutions to that question.  His answer I think was entirely accurate.  He said "people think its too complex."  It reminded me of my correspondence with the editor of the Indianapolis Star who wrote to me in response to my question about why they would mention in articles that income level was the single biggest indicator of educational achievement, but that when they offered possible solutions to the education crisis none of the answers offered had anything to do with finding ways to change the number of people in poverty.  The editor responded to my query in exactly the way my friend had "it's too complex."  So - is such a question - of whether levels of complexity should get in the way of a newspaper's role in the community - out of bounds?  Isn't the response of both the health care system and the newspaper (two pretty large public institutions) a little bit like one going to the doctor and the doctor saying "Yes, you have lung cancer, but that's too complex for us to work on - so we're going to put a cast on your arm (even though your arm isn't broken) because we know how to do that and it's simpler."  While that is a more simple solution it is also obviously foolish.  So why is it not considered foolish to avoid the difficult question of how to work to see that there are fewer people in poverty as at least one of the solutions to the health and education issues of our society?

This blog is named after an imaginary theologian named "Franz Bibfeldt" who was created by the real theologian Martin Marty when he was in seminary to see if his teachers could spot a fake!  The issue that this raises for me today is whether there are any real educators and real journalists who are wrestling with the answers to the variety of questions we are faced with, including the complexity of our economic life, or whether imaginary ones need to arrive on the scene and offer some solutions.  I don't care where it comes from - but I'd like to see more thought going into difficult problems than we seem to have these days.

I'd like to think that communities of faith could be helpful to this.  In my own tradition, John Wesley wrote books on health and thought a lot about that.  Unfortunately these days the best congregations often do is provide a health fair to the members of their congregation (and sometimes beyond) or hire a parish nurse to run some classes.  Wesley was both one of the thought leaders of his day on health as well as one of the leading health experimenters.  Perhaps a return to that part of our heritage would be a boon both to our congregations and to the nation.  Jesus spent a lot of time with sick folks, and he was often frustrated at the inability of the disciples to do much in regards to the sick.  I imagine he feels about the same towards his disciples these days.  But let's not quit trying.  And let's not settle for the easy answers.  Let's talk with one another - and push one another on the very real and very difficult challenges that lie before us.  No matter what happens, I bet we'll all be richer for it.

18 Comments:

Blogger John O'Brien said...

Mike,
Outside the US there has been a good deal of attention to the relationships among income level-health status- education-social connectedness under the heading of "Social Determinants of Health". One leading researcher is Michael Marmot (who recently finished a term as President of the British Medical Association). He chaired a WHO study on social determinants of health and a British version. Both have very strong antipoverty recommendations. The website for the institute her founded includes many great resources. See https://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/projects/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review for a look at the British Report he chaired.
Another helpful book is Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinsons The spirit level:why greater equality makes society's stronger.
There is lot to question about the remedies these analyses come up with: some over complex remedies that give community action and relationships too little attention, but there is plenty of attention to your concern by people who are wading into the complexity.
John

9:06 AM  
Blogger Mike Mather said...

John - thanks for reading this little blog and posting. I'll follow up on the website. I have read "The Spirit Level" and shared it with others. Thanks for the encouragement that opens my eyes to more of where this is being talked about and acted upon.

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