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Minority Health Month: A wake-up call to focus on good health

Each April, the United States Office of Minority Health and Health Equity conducts a month-long campaign to raise awareness about health disparities across our nation.
 Dr. Todd V. Robinson

by Todd V. Robinson, MD, PhD

Special to the Tri-State Defender

Each April, the United States Office of Minority Health and Health Equity conducts a month-long campaign to raise awareness about health disparities across our nation and ensure that we – consumers and health care professionals – are working together to close the disparity gap.  

While the 2011 Minority Health Month promotion focused on improving the quality of school lunches and the importance of eating nutritious foods, we are reminded that there is further work to be done to improve the health and wellness of African Americans in Memphis and Shelby County.

Many factors affect the health disparities citied by our government, including genetic disposition, income, geography (urban or rural), age gender, and educational level, among other factors.

To effectively improve our community’s overall health, each of us must take time to review our lives and make changes to improve our individual health behaviors.  

Sometimes, we are trapped by old habits. We don’t exercise. We eat fatty foods. We use tobacco.  All of these habits lead to chronic illness and death.  Thus, it is no surprise that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that heart disease, cancer and stroke continue to be the leading causes of death in the United States.  Chronic lower respiratory disease is the fourth-ranked cause of death, while diabetes ranks fifth.

Major risk factors for heart disease include: (1) high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, (2) high blood cholesterol, which is linked to foods rich in saturated fat, such as fat from dairy products, red meat and certain cooking oils, (3) diabetes, given that the American Heart Association reports that about 65 percent of diabetic patients die from a cardiovascular disease, and (4) obesity, which leads to high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and various coronary diseases.  

In addition to these risks, smoking is still a leading – but most preventable – cause of heart disease, cancer and stroke.  Consider these disturbing statistics provided by the State of Tennessee about our local citizenry:

•  20 percent of all adults in Shelby County are smokers

•  34 percent of all adults in Shelby County are considered obese

•  12 percent of all adults in Shelby County have been diagnosed with diabetes

The U.S. Surgeon General’s latest report states that smoking damages blood vessels throughout the body and makes the blood more likely to clot, causing heart attacks, strokes and possibly sudden death.  Today, it is widely known that smoking can cause cancer and weaken the body’s ability to fight off the disease. Also, deadly chemicals in tobacco can create difficulties with diabetes management and cause increased risks for kidney disease, amputation, nerve damage, and eye disease leading to blindness.

Smoking can perpetuate a scary and often painfully debilitating end to one’s final days.  If you smoke, quit.  I talk with patients routinely about the dangers of smoking, but also about the benefits of quitting. The body is miraculously made and can begin healing itself from the toll of smoking immediately following cessation. However, it may be difficult to quit using the old cold-turkey method.  

Talk to your physician about quitting. Look into free “stop-smoking” classes offered by area clinics and hospitals, and discuss using smoking cessation products and prescription medication with your doctor.  Map out a plan and follow it.

If you smoke, make a decision to quit now. Pledge to live a healthier life by going outside to walk and monitoring what you eat and drink. Become a disciple for better health, and by next April when Minority Health Month comes around again, you will feel better for it.

(Dr. Todd V. Robinson, Instructor, Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center)

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