*This post was previously written by a dietitian on 2nd Mile’s core team of volunteers
Imagine traveling along a road that suddenly splits in two directions. One path is well-lit, paved, marked with signs, and filled with familiar faces, while the other is more of a trail off-road, overgrown with tall grasses, and a few brave people struggling to find their way. Which path would you choose?
In a lot of ways, the choice is so obvious that it doesn’t require much thought. We are creatures of habit, and when faced with a choice, we will most likely choose the path that is familiar to us. Unfortunately in our Brentwood community, that well-known path is paved with health disparities and food deserts and leads slowly down into a pit of poor health.
Consider the hypothetical case, ‘Mr. Johnson’ who grew up in a low-income minority neighborhood, much like Brentwood. Due to lack of reliable transportation, Mr. Johnson didn’t have access to many fresh foods and grew up eating lots of foods he didn’t have to cook like ramen noodles, hot chips, canned ravioli, corn dogs, and juice from the store around the corner. He watched his three younger siblings after school so he never got involved in sports or physical activity as a kid. Mr. Johnson’s under-resourced school did not require a health class and certainly never offered any cooking classes.
Over time, Mr. Johnson kept moving down this path and these habits led him to gain weight. When he was fifteen, he began working a manual labor job to help make the ends meet. Mr. Johnson continued to work physical jobs that put immense stress on his body and did not provide health insurance. Zoom several years forward and we find Mr. Johnson in the ER for back pain. While he is there, he is diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity and is instructed to follow up with the primary care provider that Mr. Johnson does not have.
Within the next five years Mr. Johnson is able to obtain health insurance and find a primary care physician. However, by this time Mr. Johnson has been untreated for his chronic diseases for years, has had a stroke, suffers from depression, and experiences chronic pain. His new doctor does not have time to answer his questions but instead starts Mr. Johnson on several medications that will cost Mr. Johnson on a monthly basis.
How did Mr. Johnson get here? He simply followed that paved, familiar path ahead of him—something we all might do. But depending on our community, our paved path will look different and not lead to the same place.
In some communities the path is studded with organic foods, gym memberships, youth sports leagues, and preventative healthcare. While other paths are lined with corner stores, fast food, run-down parks, and limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And this is what health disparities look like. These divergent paths highlight the inequalities that exist when members of certain population groups do not benefit from the same health status as other groups.
I am a dietitian who sees the health disparities within Brentwood in a very real way. ‘Mr. Johnson’ sits down in front of me every day, overwhelmed by the place he has found himself in and the seemingly impossible climb out that is facing him.
How do you exercise when each step hurts your knees? How do you start eating healthy when you have to choose between buying vegetables or buying your medications? How do you get control of health conditions that no one has explained to you? It is overwhelming and heartbreaking and can feel hopeless.
But this is where I remember that we serve a God who redeems our life from the pit and renews our youth like the eagles (Psalm 103:4-5), a God who hears our cry and draws us up from the pit of destruction to set our feet upon a rock (Psalm 40:2), a God whose very Presence holds the power to heal (Luke 5:17). The Power and Presence of God can change an otherwise hopeless situation into a beautiful, flourishing one. The solution to eliminate health disparities is complex, multi-factorial, and challenging. But God is a God of healing and redemption who longs to see the health of Brentwood restored. Let us long for that with Him and move forward in the power of His Spirit to be agents of His healing in Brentwood.
Please pray for flourishing health in our Brentwood community. Pray for large-scale, systemic change so that the path to flourishing health would become the most accessible, easily traveled, and clearly marked path. Pray for knowledge, resources, and empowerment for our community members to travel that path well. And most of all, pray for God’s healing work in our neighborhood. His Presence changes everything.