Author Archives: mattryan34

Overcoming “Apathy”

By: Matt Ryan

In a recent video I viewed on Ted.com, the author, Dave Meslin, makes a very simply and convincing argument for combating apathy. In this course, we are often faced with the harsh reality that many, if not most, people are simply disengaged with the inequities in our society. I think we find ourselves becoming frustrated with “the way things are,” but we seem rather hopeless and helpless in our pursuits to make real change. These are fair emotions, but they are not productive in reaching greater plateaus for our society. With that, this video argues that apathy is not how we view it. I think we often believe people simply do not care, but Meslin, and I tend to agree, argues that we do not set people up to care about important issues. This lesson is very important if we wish to change people’s mind and create collective action on issues.

The most memorable issue Meslin addresses is a situation in his hometown, Toronto. In the city magazine, there are different articles on restaurants, art fairs, and other cultural events. In these articles, there is always information regarding how one can visit or take part in the festival, or eat at the restaurant. In the political commentary, which addressed a sustainable issue important to Toronto’s operations, there is no information on how one can become involved. I think we would view this throughout society. We assume apathy out of people, so we do not take the basic steps to guide people to take action. To me, this is a social justice issue, or at least an important lesson to enacting social justice. If we expect people to address important issues, and to care about the world around them, we have to cultivate an environment in which people can easily feel empowered. Presently, we do not do this.

I think this issue can touch home here at SLU’s campus. Relating to how political events are promoted in Toronto is rather difficult, but Meslin’s message carries weight right here. I think if we really want to create a better world, our biggest challenge is to improve the community around us. Do we, at Saint Louis University, allow students to take part in our activities? Do we make them feel empowered in their student government elections? Do we promote events and engage students so that they will show up and possibly learn something? Or, do we catch ourselves assuming “nobody cares”, so we only cater to a few people. I find myself falling in this trap all the time. I find myself assuming people will not rally behind certain initiatives, so I do not take the steps to enact them. I think we need to view this differently.

People are not inherently apathetic. People care about issues that matter to them. The question is how do you make this clear. How do you engage people? Meslin’s video provides some inspiration. As agents of social justice, we need to be careful to fall in the trap where we just talk about things, but we do not actually engage others. Social justice is not a clique. It takes community action. This is the challenge, and the beauty, of public health.

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The Washing Machine- The Equality of Technology

Perusing Ted.com, I came across a Hans Rosling video that touches on many contemporary issues in public health. In the video, Hans Rosling makes the argument that the washing machine is one of, if not the, greatest inventions during the industrial revolution. Essentially, pre-washing machine, families, usually the women in the household, were required to go to great lengths to clean clothes. Finding water, mixing with soap, and then washing hand-by-hand each piece of clothing was the common practice. Once the washing machine came around, that time was, Rosling argues, spent reading and educating the childern of the household. This ‘revolution’ leads to one of the greatest attributes to any society: a young, educated population. The washing machine also empowered women. Instead of doing the tedious task of hand washing clothes, they could dedicate that time to more progressive tasks, like learning to read or write. As we live in 2011, however, billions of our fellow world peers still do not have washing machines. This is a justice issue. How can we allocate technology so that all can reap the most basic benefits we use every day? How is such a basic invention to us still not made a reality in many societies? Are we socially responsible to change this?

In order to argue that we should care that our fellow global peers do not have basic technology, I think it is best to step away from the moral argument and point to a more pragmatic solution. Allowing basic technology in lower-income communities would create a stronger, and more educated, world. This benefits us all. Giving each household the access to a washing machine is a preventative issue. One cannot put a price tag on a mother that can read and educate her children. The empowerment and long-term effects outweigh the price of electricity and a washing machine. So why isn’t there a global push? As we are discussing in class lately, is someone benefiting from injustices? Do those in higher-income nations feel more worthy of technology?

To begin, we do not have the most basic mindset to create global change: the idea that someone benefiting halfway around the world would benefit me. For many, in our day-to-day lives, it is very difficult to imagine what a washing machine would do for those whom we will never meet. I, as with Hans Rosling, would argue that this boost in technology would help us all. It would decrease inequity and would, as I mentioned earlier, create a more efficient and educated world.

Another touching issue within this presentation is the basic idea what attractive use of statistics can do. Hans Rosling is revolutionizing how we view basic global realities with his work. His movement will be a great benefit to us all as we move forward in public health. We have many issues to tackle, but as Hans Rosling would argue, maybe one goal should be to get washing machines in each household.

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Climate Change and Public Health

Kaiser Family Foundation pointed to a recent debate going on in the halls of Congress. Our legislators are faced with the difficult choices on budgeting for the next fiscal year. The balance between remaining fiscally responsible and ensuring socially just structures is difficult. Today, they debated regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. Rep. Lois Capps claimed that climate change is a great threat to public health measures. This connection requires much analysis from public health officials. In addition, we must also closely examine legislation that is being passed these next few hours, if not days.

To begin, the climate change issue is intrinsically linked to public health. Although I am not a scientist on the matter, I do say with confidence that we need to become better stewards of the earth. Business operations are often executed with little regard to the environment. In lower-income countries, this is harming populations already. In addition, future weather patterns could be affected which would harm crops and the safety of millions of people.

I do not want to direct my focus on climate change, but rather use this article to reflect an immediate reality. I want to turn my attention to the difficult issues that our elected officials need to make in the near future. When deciding on a budget, many justice issues occur. Where should funds be allocated? Where should they be cut? Who suffers with these decisions? In regards to the climate change issue, the House voted to cut regulations of carbon dioxide emissions. They did this so that business could benefit more. With an issue like this, it is difficult to decide what is more just. As with many issues, this is not clear-cut at all. On one hand, we are cutting regulations that could help save our environment. On the other hand, businesses claim these regulations hurt their effectiveness. I think we need to way how we value things. Are profits or environmental sustainability more important? How do our decisions factor long term? All of these issues are difficult, but to begin, we need to educate our issues. We need to get a point where we have honest dialogues on these issues so that we can ensure a better future for our country, and our planet.

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Personal Choice v. Social Lottery

A recent article from the New York Times touched on an interesting disease plaguing the wealthy more then the poor: melanoma. With most disease burdens, they are often linked to social lottery, which means that most diseases plague the poor more. With this, however, one’s lifestyle is directly affecting their health outcomes. The article touches on the fact that the wealthier are outside more often. I think this case is important because it can reflect a deeper examination of our understanding of personal choice and social lottery. In public health, understanding this fine balance is critical to making just decisions. Many argue that personal choice is almost always the reason for illness, which often puts blame on those already suffering. That being said, this case brings up an interesting point. Given that the wealthiest have the higher burden of disease, does that mean it is their personal choice driving this? If so, should we not have a preferential option to aid them with their disease?

I recognize that the wealthy have more personal power and ability to dictate health results, and thus there is an argument that they must take personal responsibility for their contraction of melanoma. That being said, I believe there is more to the issue. This examination illustrates the complexities of sayings one’s health outcome can ever be traced completely to personal choice. One, wealthy women often grow up in a culture that defines beauty through tanning, often in unhealthy ways. This pressure is a societal issue. In addition, I believe that there was not much research in prior years on the negative affects and cancerous affect of tanning without protection. This is also a societal issue.

Given this, I think it is difficult to put complete blame on each individual women for their contraction of melanoma. Although they are wealthy, and their contraction often comes from a life of luxury, it is difficult to place complete blame on the population. Societal pressures and lack of evidence resulted in this increase. A few weeks ago, we looked into the difference between personal choice and social lottery. There is not a clear-cut choice when deciphering between these options. Often times, there are many complexities to decide where the blame may lie. With this, the core tenet of public health to focus on the most ill makes sense. Passing personal judgment cannot fully be accurate. Even with a wealthy population, it is unjust to put complete blame on the individual person. With this, like all public health things, there is not a clear solution. In knowing this, we must act very carefully when choosing how treatment is allocated.

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Advance Directives

By: Matt Ryan

CNN had an article this week about end-of-life decisions. To begin, I want to state that I am not a healthcare ethicist. CNN touched on the difficulty of end-of-life decisions. Commonly, close family members and friends stand to make the decision whether to continue their loved one’s life. In the recent discussion during health care reform, the discussion was often framed in a very poor light. At its worst, some argued that those who supported physicians providing advice and letting the patients know of their options before they lost the capability to choose were “killing granny.” This is a shame, and I think we as a society need to have an honest dialogue about end-of-life care so that we can better handle these extremely difficult situations. To begin, a recent study has shown that 1/3 of Americans have had to make end-of-life decisions. This issue is evident throughout our society so it must be discussed.

The CNN  article touched on how agonizing it is for family members to choose end-of-life decisions. At its worst, some feel they are killing the ones they most love. If they choose further treatment, they feel they are prolonging suffering. As you can see, all options are difficult. In public health, we must recognize the challenge. We must recognize that the answers will not be easy, but we must consider that there could be population-based decisions to make this process easier. This is a justice issue. Not only on how life is treated at all stages, when considering the patient, but also on how family members and friends are affected. We need to ask ourselves if their are population efforts that can ease the process.

The CNN article concluded by stating that the agonizing was less difficult if an advance directive was established. In other words, the patients had told the family members how to choose when the time came. An advance directive is also known as a living will. We as a society must consider making advanced directives more frequent. We must find the balance that this is not a call for death panels, but a rational decision. In CMH-365, we are realizing that answers are not easy. We are realizing that we must hold multiple thoughts in tension. We cannot run from the reality that death is inevitable, and making the decision for others may occur, but in doing so, we also cannot lose respect for the life of those most in need. In public health, educating others on these difficult choices may ease the agonizing. Acting early so that decisions are less difficult later is a core tenet of public health. Facing the harsh realities of life is also a core issue of public health. Understanding this, I have begun to ask the question if advance directives truly work. If so, how common are they? I also wonder if simply instating a policy for physicians to  inform patients would work, or if this needs to be a more comprehensive effort? One article cannot answer these longing issues, but I just wanted to bring awareness to an extremely difficult topic.

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The NFL

By: Matt Ryan

In a recent New York Times article, the article illustrates the suicide of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson. When committing suicide last week, Duerson shot himself in the chest. He did this to ensure his brain would remain intact so that his brain could be studied for a disease that he believes, and much evidence argues, is plaguing football players. The collision to the brain is taking a toll on many former players, and is harming their lives. Recent studies are strongly illustrating the brain risks to football players. This is a public health and social justice issue. We must examine how this sport is affecting individuals, and see what can be changed.

The suicide of Duerson struck a chord with many former football players. The glory of playing under the lights soon ends with retirement for these once-stars. Instead, health issues belabor the players. As a society, we must realize these issues. Instead of glorifying the stars when they are in their 20’s we also need to examine how football can become safer. For future stars, we need to ensure that brain injuries are not as rampant.

Although there is much research being done to improve helmet safety, some argue that this only increases the risk. Now, players feel they can hit harder with their heads. Thinking that the helmet makes head injuries impossible, players often put their heads in dangerous spots. Instead of glorifying the hard hits, and risky behaviours, we need to examine the consequences of these actions.

I personally love football, but I do not think a sport should ruin the futures of the players. As with all public health problems, we must examine how we can make the situation more just. I touched on this issue because I think it hits at a social justice issue in front of us every Sunday afternoon and every park around our town on Saturdays. I also think this issue shows the difference between entertainment and real life. For these players, their entertainment on the field is long behind as they still deal with complex mental issues. With this, we must examine if new rules need to be implemented, a change of culture on what we value in a football game, or padding needs to be added.

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School Lunches

By: Matthew Ryan

Below is an article that was written recently by the New York Times. It reflects on a public health issue that has gained much notice lately: obesity.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/health/research/08childhood.html?_r=1&ref=health

This article touched on the poor nutritional value from school lunches. As a result, the article reports that children that eat school lunches are more likely to be obese. It is obviously not fair to jump to the conclusion that school lunches cause obesity. There are many more factors. That being said, it is likely that school lunches are one of the contributors to obesity. More importantly, though, what message are we sending to our children, and our future, if public school lunches are not nutritious?

Public schools are arguably one of the strongest foundations for our future success as a nation. The nearly universal right to an education for American citizens may be this nation’s greatest quality. The idea that we so value education that it is a right of all citizens is magnificent, and proper. Education is the backbone for a growing economy. Better education could relieve many burdens on our health care system. A more educated electorate should arguably elect better legislators. The benefits from public education go on and on. For all this to work, however, our public schools must be functioning properly. The failure of the American public school system is not for my undertaking. Truthfully, the failures cannot be totally expressed by one person. There are too many variables. I do, however, want to briefly touch on the issue of public school lunches.

I am interested in this article because I think there are clear-cut solutions. From a policy standpoint, I think this is possible. Replacing unhealthy food with nutritious food is plausible. As the article mentions, the Department of Agriculture has taken recent steps to make lunches healthier. More importantly then the possibility, however, there is a greater message in all of this.

I believe this issue is greater then just school lunches. This is a social justice issue. For the past few generations, we have failed American children with the food offered at public school lunches. Children whose parents were too busy to make a lunch so they took faith in the school lunch system were mistreated. Others who thought the school would know what was best for their child to eat were wrong as well. Unfortunately, the lunch system failed us. Instead of giving students a nutritious lunch, they served unhealthy options.

Obesity could arguably bankrupt our health care system in the future. My generation is much more obese then generations before. In an already struggling health care system, obesity is a behemoth issue coming down the pipe. So how can we stop this issue? When we need to look to the future, and start changing the habits of future generations, what do we do? We turn to public schools.

We rely on our schools to teach children basic functions so that when they are adults, our society functions better. We need to do the same thing with food. Only offering unhealthy options to an eight-year-old five days a week is unjust. We cannot then turn 20 years down the line and point at that child and blame them for the rising health care costs.

Yes the issue has many complexities. There are powerful interests that are perfectly content with how school lunches have operated. Corn and potatoes at every lunch benefits some people. That being said, do public schools exist so that companies can profit? Or do they exist so students can be educated and decide for themselves who should profit? These are big questions we must face as a nation.

By ensuring that public school lunches become healthier, we are putting a down payment on our future. Fighting the obesity epidemic will not be easy. Much of the issues are out of the federal government’s hands. Some, however, are right under their jurisdiction. What we have our public schools serving at lunch is most definitely one of them.

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