By: Sheila Snow-Croft, Public Health Coordinator, National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), Southeastern/Atlantic Region (SE/A), firstname.lastname@example.org
This year’s APHA meeting had the theme of “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-being,” and many of the sessions I attended addressed these issues. During the opening session, APHA’s Executive Director, Georges Benjamin, MD, announced the APHA goal to create the healthiest generation in American history within one generation. He was then followed by announcements from other leaders who are taking steps to make this goal a reality. From the Partnership for a Healthier America looking at campus food and physical activity to Louisiana’s Well-Ahead initiative that celebrates voluntary changes to become more healthy, there are many out there taking those necessary baby-steps and celebrating good decisions. Our culture of personal freedom need not pull us down; positive improvements are possible. A session on “Healthography and the Food Environment” discussed research of the New Orleans food environment, access to healthy food, and unhealthy marketing in vulnerable neighborhoods. The results were not surprising; people in minority and low-income areas are exposed to more unhealthy marketing and have less access to fresh fruits and vegetables than those in more affluent areas. Only the areas in New Orleans with the most tourism escape this reality. As a vegetarian seeking healthy dining options while attending the conference, I personally saw the changes that have been made since I last visited the Big Easy over a decade ago. There are more options, but much education and effort will be needed to continue down the path to better health. Building the databases full of information and learning from this research are key to bringing in funding and conducting projects that can help bring about desired change.
Along with addressing grim realities and watching as colleagues struggle to change the world, this conference had lots of local music and fun. Jazz bands opened and closed big sessions and made impromptu appearances throughout the week. Also, I truly enjoyed dinner Sunday evening with this year’s Sewell Stipend recipients. The Sewell Memorial Fund’s mission is to “increase librarians’ identification with the medical and health care professionals they serve,” and the stipends, provided by the Public Health/Health Administration Section of the Medical Library Association, help defray the cost of attending APHA annual meetings. http://www.phha.mlanet.org/blog/activities/sewell-stipend/
Another highlight of this year’s meeting was getting to hear Pulitzer Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson talk about her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” Wilkerson is an eloquent and knowledgeable speaker; she spent 15 years researching and writing and interviewed more than 1200 people for this masterpiece, according to her website http://isabelwilkerson.com. After the session, I started reading this book and have to admit that I had little prior knowledge about the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. Many of her words have remained in my mind since hearing her speak, and the book is fascinating. Our work with health disparities means we understand how crucial a role geography and social status play in health and well-being, and the factual characters in Wilkerson’s book epitomize these facts.
Although the APHA annual meeting is huge and often threatens to overwhelm, I always return to my office afterwards feeling refreshed and with a clearer vision of what I want to achieve in this position. It’s important to network and meet others with similar tasks and goals and to get a sense of the overall successes of colleagues and the field itself. This year was no different; from the powerful speakers down to the small sessions and paper and poster presentations, the energy and dedication of this nation’s public health workforce is inspiring.