Thursday, February 25, 2016

Olusimbo Ige: Persons, Places and Healthy Choices

Today's post is by Olusimbo Ige, Executive Director of Global Health for the General Board of Global Ministries.

I commute from the Bronx to Manhattan on the Number 6 train every morning. You will need to look up these locations and the significance of this commute if you are not a New Yorker. What is important is that this is a 30 minute ride often with very bizarre but very interesting happenings. On one particular morning, I was competing for standing space with a young lady who had remarkable mastery of holding on to two energetic little boys and an overflowing bag of goodies from Dunkin Donuts.  Fortunately, a Good Samaritan offered her seat to the 2 boys to squeeze into.

The mum promptly unpacked breakfast, which was a mid-size donut with frosting and rainbow colored sprinkled stuff. Such deliciousness! This must be the perfect breakfast if you are a four year old. I can still see the joy in the boys’ faces as they wolfed down their donuts and washed them down with some excitingly colored soda. I marveled as the mum struggled to wipe sticky fingers and prevent spills. I made a conscious effort not to think about why four year olds had to have breakfasts on crammed trains at 7 am in the morning. I tried even harder not to think about what I had for breakfast when I was four.

A few stops into Manhattan, another young lady gets on the train with a similar sized little boy, around 5 or 6 years old. The two little boys from the Bronx scoot over to let the new boy sit. Again the mother whips out breakfast. This time it was a shiny apple, a bright yellow banana followed by a granola bar. Fortunately, the first two boys had finished their donuts so I could not readily compare who looked happier with breakfast.  At this point I thought about pulling out my cup of yogurt and granola to stop my growling tummy, since it appeared that breakfast on the train was the order of the day. I repented of that idea quickly since I was holding on to a pole shared by 3 other persons.

For distraction I decided to think more about the 2 breakfast options for little boys I had just witnessed. How would these boys turn out after 10 years of enjoying these breakfast options? Will they be strapping young lads or what we like to call big boned or chubby youngsters? Maybe they will be confident and full of energy, or could they become troubled, bullied or battling with low self-esteem from body image concerns? Knowing how much dietary patterns impact lives and futures, I shuddered a bit thinking of the many children whose futures might be marred because of the dietary choices of today.

Since there are no interesting sights or lush greenery to draw me away from this kind of morbid thoughts, I thought about these two mums. What would make a mother choose a kind of breakfast for their sons? Maybe their knowledge of the nutritional value? I thought it hard to imagine a mother would be ignorant of the benefits of fruits and whole grains over donuts. Knowing the number of my doctor friends who would choose donuts over apples I thought that ignorance might not be the only problem.

Maybe time pressure? But then it is faster to prepare a meal of apples and bananas than to wait in line for donuts and soda at a coffee house isn’t it? But only if there is a ready source of fruits. I thought about my grocery shopping, I realized I had to drive about 20 minutes to a fresh produce place to get my stock of fruits and vegetables for the week but only had to walk a couple hundred feet to get to a deli or fast food outlet.

In addition, I know how hard it is to talk a four year old into eating a healthy meal. I remember how convinced my 7 year old is that the best meals are the latest, delicious creation on offer by one fast food outlet or the other as seen on TV. I could not quite recall seeing many advertisement on the latest, most exciting way to get your daily 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.

I had five more minutes to my stop when I also recalled that people tend to do what most people around them do. My son had said how his friends tease him for liking broccoli and how they think it is really gross to just chump on broccoli like he does. So he longer wanted broccoli but pizza, which is the coolest meal to have for lunch.

As I got off the train, my lingering thoughts were that choices are a product of much more than knowledge. It is easier to make popular choices especially when these choices are within easy reach. Making healthy choices sometimes require community level action to make healthy choices the norm rather than the exception, to make healthy options the easy options, readily available and within reach of everyone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), poor dietary choices are linked to obesity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. These are all leading causes of death in the United States. Health is one of the four areas of focus of the United Methodist Church, and this includes effectively addressing poor nutrition in the United States as well as internationally. Global Ministries as the agency tasked with implementation of the global health mandate of the church has sought new opportunities to engage with community-based programs to remove barriers to healthy nutrition.

These programs will help ensure that beneficiaries are empowered to make healthy food choices; they will promote good family nutritional practices, including breastfeeding and appropriate foods for children and adults; and they will also help create community solutions that make healthy options available to and practical for residents. In 2015, the Global Health Unit awarded four nutrition grants to UMC-affiliated organizations to promote healthy eating among low income and vulnerable communities in the United States. We are excited about this new opportunity for the church to be in mission to address health issues in the United States.

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