Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mighty Be Our Powers

“When you move so quickly from innocence to a world of fear, pain and loss, it's as if the flesh of your heart and mind gets cut away, piece by piece, like slices taken off a ham. Finally, there is nothing left but bone.” 
― Leymah Gbowee, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

Mighty Be Our Powers was, arguably, the most powerful book I read this past winter break. As part of the GlobeMed book club, I ordered my copy--late--and hesitated through nine books or so before opening this one. I had just read Mountains Beyond Mountains and am, in all other respects, still quite wet behind the ears when it comes to global health and health inequities. So what would I make of Leymah Gbowee?

There is a serious reason she received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Gbowee literally faced hell on earth when it comes to the civil war in Monrovia, but she came back with her own fire. Before the war breaks out, Gbowee celebrates her high school graduation, surrounded by friends, family, and gifts. Then, she has to watch her country get torn apart by rape, looting, murder, and beatings. But the incredible thing about Gbowee is her ability to channel her emotional distress into positive action, and ultimately, she helps to lead the Women In Peace Building Network (WIPNET) that brought together Christian and Muslim women to call for the end of war. At one point, Gbowee even drafts her own peace treaty and forces a general to review it. Peace abounds, especially because of all that the women of Liberia have done. For an individual up against such crippling structural violence, Leymah Gbowee proves to be quite the woman.

This is a story of empowerment, a story of a kind of inspiration that moves not only women, but families, fronts, and nations. It is an amazing tale of an amazing life, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to read her. I might not be sitting down in front of any warlords anytime soon, but Gbowee's mission is one that I have found myself in alignment with. And to think, she's coming to speak at Summit...

PS--In the memoir, Gbowee notes that she was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. It tells the courageous efforts of a group of Liberian women to bring peace to Liberia. It is going on my bucket list of movies to watch!

--Elaine Hsiang

Friday, January 11, 2013

Do Our Schools Make Our Children Fat?!

Winter break is the greatest idea ever. Sleeping works miracles!! Well, it was another crazy busy end of the year, starting with Thanksgiving celebrations to New Year's Celebration. Recently, I have been noticing the amount of food (PLENTY) at such gatherings. While some countries suffer from poverty, the United States faces its own problems. Over the recent twenty years, obesity has increased dramatically in the United States. Childhood obesity has increased even more; according to the centers for disease control and prevention, childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. In 1980, 7 percent of children were reported to be obese. In 2008, 20 percent of children were reported to be obese. Currently, more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight and obese; obesity is a prevalent epidemic, affecting many people in the Unites States. We all know this.

So, what are some of the causes of childhood obesity? School environments play a significant role in perpetuating childhood obesity. Children and adolescents spend most of their time in schools. Food and dieting environment, health and nutritional education, physical education, peer network in school perpetuate obesity. 

            In the United States, 99 percent of all pubic schools and 83 percent of perivate schools participate in the National School Lunch Program. Of those students attending schools, about 60 percent of students eat at school and 37 eat breakfast. (Blue) Though all nationally provided meals meet the dietary regulations of average Americans, most schools allow students to buy competitive foods. Competitive foods low nutrition, highly fattening snacks in vending machines or other low-nutrition food accessible to students, sold though fundraising. Vending machines have become extremely common in schools and this rise of vending machines correlates with the increase obesity rate. 
           Such low-nutritious processed competitive foods add unnecessary calories to individual’s diet. Even worse, they replace fruits and vegetables. According to SHPPS, 78 percent of high school students had consumed fruits and vegetables less than five times per day during the seven days before taking the survey. 
          Being a psudo-health freak, I know the negative consequences of making such choices. Still, during exam weeks at Brown, my sleep-deprived-stressed-out-self often fall into the temptations of the evil, but so delicious, candy bars. I wish that Brown would make more effort to offer healthy alternatives. 

          Another school characteristic that perpetuates obesity is the lack of physical activity in the school curriculum. In the nation, 2 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools provide daily physical education. According to Story and others, only 10 percent of schools required physical standards (Story, Nanney & Shwartz, 2009) As the data demonstrates, schools place very little importance on physical education, promoting a sedentary lifestyle.

In conclusion....
Obesity, like many diseases, is affected by various factors, such as genetics, environment, socio-economic status. Though one cannot point directly to schools as the cause of obesity epidemic in children, an examination of the school characteristics show that schools do not foster  healthy life-styles. One may argue schools are not responsible for promoting healthy behavirs among children. However, making healthy choices should be (if it is not now) emphasized in schools. Students’ status on health has a strong association with academic and social performance. Obesity is a best combatted with preventive measures and schools are best suited to  for this purpose.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Health News in Africa

I hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday thus far! I for one have been filling much of my time with reading both novels and current events. Here are a couple of articles I had read pertaining to public health in Africa:

In a recent article in Vaccine News Daily, I read about the Fourth Annual Regional Conference on Immunization in Africa. At this conference, recommendations were made about "strengthening Africa's immunization structure, curbing the increase in the number of wild polio virus cases in Nigeria and closing the funding gap for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative." WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Luis Sambo spoke at the conference, which was held in Dar es Salaam, and emphasized lowering the cost of delivery of vaccines as immunization is one of the most "powerful public health tools available." Read the article here.

In other news, I read about the dire effects of climate change on the African continent, particularly in vulnerable areas (such as ones with less availability of water). Not only would Africa be a victim of climate change, but it would also be a contributor: South Africa alone is responsible for 40% of Africa's emissions, with more tons per capita than China! The statistics are sobering: by 2025, most if not all African countries will feel effects of a lesser availability of water, with a predicted 20-30% decrease in water availability in South Africa if temperatures rise at least 2°C, and cases of malaria may rise and affect an additional 40-60 million Africans. The article argues that global action, not just small acts on the part of the government of a single African country, is necessary to prepare for such changes. Read the article here.

Also, remember to check out Leymah Gbowee's website to read about her and get a glimpse of the GlobeMed Book Club book Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, which I hope to begin after I finish my current read....

Marisa M.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Interesting Documentary

My sister and I recently watched the documentary Food Matters. The documentary discussed America's reliance on the pharmaceutical industry, in conjunction with our terrible eating habits. It presents "vitamin therapy" as a proven highly affective way to combat most illnesses, and attributes a great deal of sickness (namely instances of chronic pain, which is one of the leading ailments experienced by American citizens), to vitamin deficiencies. High dosages of vitamins can directly prevent, or even cure, these illnesses. However, largely due to corporate interests, this approach to medicine is not taken seriously by the medical community. Certainly a fascinating, if not shocking, take on public health within America!