BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
The Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, Bethune-Cookman University and Halifax Health hosted the 2014 Health Equity Summit themed “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.’’
The summit was held Wednesday in recognition of National Minority Health Month.
“Statistics are real people with the tears wiped away,” keynote speaker Dr. B. Lee Green, vice president of Moffitt Diversity and professor at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute has adopted. “That comparison helps me as I analyze and research the data showing us health disparities are real. They exist in the people’s lives that are impacted by poor health each and every day.”
The summit touched on health disparities among age, race and socioeconomic status.
In Volusia County, the disparity of heart disease, obesity and diabetes among Blacks is in some cases as much as three times higher than Whites.
‘A lot of insight’
The Florida Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health recognizes seven key areas for health disparities, which are HIV/AIDS, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, immunizations and oral health.
Synthia Williams, a representative from the Midtown Health Education Action Team (HEAT) and a retired public health nurse, attended the annual event in its fifth year due to her passion for health care.
“This seminar is one that I come to every year because I get a lot of insight on what public health issues are continuing and where we are with them. When I retired from public health four years ago, I was working with these same type of issues and worked with them for 28 years,” she explained. “So it’s of great importance to me to see that we are progressing. To see what needs to happen from this point, things that need to be done different, and how can I be a part of that.”
‘Preaching to the choir’
The Daytona Beach resident shared that many of the disparities she saw as a child, through adulthood and as a health care professional over the years has changed.
“I’ve seen changes, I’ve seen impact, so I think that this needs to continue, but we need a lot more of community involvement, our everyday community folks, not just those in health care. Someone just made a great point, we are preaching to the choir, because we have a lot of health care people here, we need to figure out how to involve our laypeople and make things happen for the community as a whole,’’ Williams continued.
“Just hearing from other people about what is going on in other communities and being able to network with one another and leverage about what’s happening and who’s doing what about it,” said Dr. Bonnie J. Sorenson, director of the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County. “We all need to work together, particularly on policy issues.
Those of us who know better need to be at the table to help them make those decisions.”
Youth and obesity
Responding to a question on the prevalence of obesity in the Black community and beyond, Sorensen, who holds a doctorate in medicine and board certification in endocrinology and metabolism, focuses on prevention in youth.
“Adults know better. We don’t really want to spend a lot of time and resources on adults. We really want to reach the children. If we can reach the children, teach them about healthy nutrition, physical activity and get them to be healthier that will make a difference in their lives. They will not have to worry about preventing diabetes, hypertension and stroke.
This is for the long haul. It’s going to take a generation to make a change and this generation has to be the younger generation. So if they reach age 19 or 20 and are physically behavior and they don’t smoke and they don’t engage in risky behavior and they will have all the right stuff, they are going to be much better off in the long wrong.
It’s about promoting healthy behaviors in Florida.”
‘Let’s Move Volusia’
Sorensen also noted an initiative that is being implemented across the county and in almost a dozen schools.
“The Let’s Move Volusia’s youth is working on community gardens, school gardens and we have engaged the school district to apply or try to strive to become a healthy school. There is a Healthy School Program and 11 of our 60 schools have agreed to go for the gold and be designated a healthy school. It has to do with the nutrition, the physical activity and not only of the children but of the staff.
“Strengthening schools is the heart of health,” added Catherine Howard, coordinator of the Florida Department of Health’s Healthiest Weight initiative.