2011 Alpha Kappa Alpha Walk It Out Health & Fitness Event:
The Inside Scoop on Health
By Jonathan Gramling
It seems like such a simple concept. In order to be healthy — and happy — we have to
take steps to be healthy. Nothing that really matters in life necessarily comes easy. If it is
good for us, shouldn’t we just do it?
Yet people are as busy as ever and all of us get conflicting messages from commercials
and other sources of information in our lives that can blur our understanding of what is
the right thing to do in terms of our health. And as we get older, we still wish to continue
to do things we did in our youth, but seem unwilling to take the measures to stay healthy.
Dare I say that we want our cake — chocolate with double fudge frosting — and eat it too?
If all of us have really looked around lately, did it seem that people were just looking
fatter these days? Well it isn’t a figment of your imagination. We are getting heftier.
At the Alpha Kappa Alpha Walk It Out Health & Fitness Event held July 9 at Madison
College-Truax, Angela Russell, community engagement lead for the UW-Madison
Population Health Institute, spelled out the problem in pretty blunt terms.
|Angela Russell is the community engagement lead for
the UW-Madison Population Health Institute
“We’ve all heard this before – Black women in the US are disproportionately affected by illness and disease compared to White women,” Russell
said. “We know that Black women are more likely to die of cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and they more often develop hypertension, diabetes,
uterine fibroids, and lupus compared to White women.
“We know that prevention works. Eating right, not smoking, being physically active all help to prevent a myriad of illnesses and diseases. Even
though we know that leading a healthy lifestyle is important we are still some of the most obese and least healthy folks in the nation. In fact a new
report just release Thursday from The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that over 27 percent of adults in
Wisconsin are overweight and nearly 46 percent of Black adults in Wisconsin are obese. Moreover, this new study shows that Wisconsin leads
the nation in the percent of Black adults who are obese.”
Good health doesn’t happen by accident, especially in this age of innumerable foods — many of them calorie-laden — at our finger-tips and endless
hours of passive entertainment at our disposal. We have to have the right conditions to be healthy.
“Why is it that if we know that prevention works, are we still suffering disproportionately from preventable illnesses and disease,” Russell asked.
“For far too long there has been a disconnect between social conditions that make living a healthy life easier and strategies and policies that are
being implemented regarding health. So for a long time the message has been several things — lose weight (health behaviors) and get screened
for diabetes. But something is missing in this equation — the context in which losing weight must occur. It is difficult to eat right and get physically
active if you don’t have access to healthy foods, live in a community with a high rate of violence, and don’t have access to recreational facilities.
Luckily, in Madison and the Dane County area we have good access to healthy foods, have relatively low rates of violent crime and have good
access to recreational facilities. Where we live, learn, work and play matters to your health and that the health of communities can be improved by
improving high school graduation rates, increasing the percent of adults who attend college, reducing violence in our communities, increasing
access to healthy foods and recreational facilities and by increasing healthy behaviors.”
According to the study that Russell is working on, there are factors present — or not present —that influence the overall health of the population in
any particular county.
“People are nearly twice as likely to be in fair or poor health in the unhealthiest counties,” Russell said. Unhealthy counties have significantly
lower high school graduation rates. Unhealthy counties have more than twice as many children in poverty. Unhealthy counties have much fewer
grocery stores or farmer’s markets. And unhealthy counties have much higher rates of unemployment.”
So how does Dane County dare in the ranking of Wisconsin’s counties? With every thing going on in Dane County, one would think that Dane
County would be ranked number one. But according to Russell, Dane County is ranked number nine for 2011. So what gives?
“Based on our analysis, in Dane County we have a relatively low premature death rate, good health related quality of life, relatively low rates of
adult smoking, very low rates of motor vehicle deaths, good access to quality health care, good education, good access to recreational facilities
and good access to healthy foods,” Russell observed. “Despite all of these incredible things that we have going for us in Dane County, we
continue to have room for improvement – in two areas in particular. The rate of adult obesity and excessive drinking are significant issues in
Dane County. One in four adults is obese and we have an excessive drinking rate of 24 percent.”
While we might tend to focus on ourselves as individuals when thinking about health, Russell emphasized that it is a community thing.
“Health is everyone’s business — everyone in a community has a stake in becoming healthy,” Russell said. “We all need to work together to find
solutions such as working to improve high school graduation rates, providing more walking and biking paths, promoting affordable access to
healthier foods, or enacting smoke-free laws. No one person or sector can single-handedly improve the health of a community — it takes all of us
working together in a coordinated fashion.”
Russell had a number of suggestions for the audience in terms of staying healthy. First she emphasized that people need to create the space in
their lives to regularly exercise.
”As I mentioned before, as a busy mom,” Russell said. “I’ve had a tough time going out for exercising. So for now, I’ve integrated increased
physical activity into my daily living. I walk to work. And when I can — if the kids had a decent night of sleep and my husband doesn’t have an
early morning meeting — I go running in the morning. Also, I travel a fair amount with my job. I make sure that I work out every time I travel.”
Russell also emphasized that it is important to create an environment that is conducive to people living healthy lifestyles.
“Create accessible and safe place to be physically active. In general, in Madison we have great access to safe walking paths, biking paths and
parks. But if there is a park in the area in which you live that needs refurbishing, updating, or feels unsafe, connect with your local city alderperson
to develop ideas in which you can make your park more accessible.”
And it is important to model for and ensure that the generations coming up get the right messages about health and fitness.
“One of the most important things that we can do to ensure the health of future generations is support and encourage our children to complete high
school and pursue higher education,” Russell emphasized. “Education is one of the primary vehicles to improve the health of community.
Education can have multigenerational implications that make it an important measure for the health of future generations. The education of parents
affects their children’s health directly through resources available to the children, and also indirectly through the quality of schools that the
Good health is a community thing. Get with it today!