Captain D’s, Popeye’s, Church’s Chicken, Knockout Wings, Paul’s Market, and Nothing But Wings. To most students these restaurants sound like a quick way to satisfy the rare craving for a greasy meal, but for many of the residents on Jefferson street, these dining options are part of their staple diet. I don’t even like Popeye’s, but every evening after a long day of work, the alluring aroma of fried chicken and french fries outside my front porch can be very tempting.
In 2013, the obesity rate in Tennessee was 31.3% which ranked #7 in the country for highest rates of obesity. The lack of healthy food options in lower socioeconomic areas is by far the leading contributor to the high rates of obesity in these communities. Of course there are lots of healthy eating options in Nashville, with some food chains making a conscious effort to promote health awareness, however, many of these options, by way of price and location, do not target lower socioeconomic status populations.
For example, like the majority of my neighbors off Jefferson street, I do all of my grocery shopping at the Kroger Market on Rosa Parks Blvd. While the produce selection is slightly below produce standards, it usually is sufficient for my cooking and dietary needs. I decided to visit the Kroger Market in Green Hills one time and was completely astonished. The disparity between the quality and variety of the produce section was remarkable. While I have the convenience of driving to this market, unfortunately, many Nashvillians cannot afford to do their grocery shopping across town. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding unhealthy foods is already a difficult task, but when additional hurdles and barriers are added, it is almost impossible.
The 12 South Student Health Clinic has been a wonderful asset in providing premier health care to residents, especially in the Edgehill Community, an area that has even fewer healthy food markets than the Jefferson St. area. The closest grocery store is about two miles away requiring two bus trips, two fares, and about two hours of time to complete the trip. This is a huge obstacle for those trying to lead a healthy life.
As future medical professionals and more importantly, as Meharrians, we have two profound responsibilities. The first it is be effective teachers. We must educate our patients on the benefits of healthy eating habits in order to avoid serious chronic medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and heart disease. Prevention is the key and must be at the forefront of our practice of medicine. Our second responsibility is to advocate on the behalf of our patients. We must identify any roadblocks that may impede healthy practices for our patients, and provide sustainable solutions for these challenges. In this respect, we must become socially aware, involved, and proponents of our communities.
Currently, Nashville’s Metro General Hospital hosts a wonderful Farmers Market with locally grown produce, dairy, and meats every Tuesday afternoon. Students at Vanderbilt’s Medical School provide a mobile market of fresh produce which moves throughout different communities. Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana offers a culinary elective to its fourth year students to educate them on how to prepare healthy meals. All of these are strong examples of bringing prevention and health promotion to communities. I encourage everyone to examine the handicaps facing our own patient population in Nashville and combine efforts to create an organic dialogue to help identify practical solutions. Good food is the beginning of preventive care!