"How can we tell people to eat more vegetables when the nearest place selling them is 20 miles away? How can we tell them to exercise when the park is run down and unsafe?”
Those wise words from City of Hope researcher and professor Kimlin Tam Ashing
, Ph.D. underscore an important point about cancer risk, especially for people in poor communities. Where you live matters.
Environment has a direct connection to overall well-being and cancer risk. Living under stressful conditions damages your health. When unhealthy fast food is cheap and healthy food is nowhere to be found, obesity rates rise. And obesity is linked to an increased risk of cancer.
People who struggle just to survive day-to-day can't simply up and move to a better neighborhood. But thanks to forward-thinking individuals and organizations, there are more opportunities for folks to improve their health and the quality of their lives and cut their cancer risk, right where they are. Here are a few examples:
Seeds of Hope – Rather than just hand out food to the needy, Tim Alderson, leader of the food justice arm of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles came up with a plan to turn vacant church property — especially in low-income, “food desert” neighborhoods — into small farms, growing healthy crops and teaching people about smart eating. This incredibly successful program is making a difference in over 100 communities.
— City of Hope's Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (directed by Ashing) — goes into underserved neighborhoods and encourages grocers to display healthy foods more prominently. They also work with healthy food retailers to encourage them to accept food stamps. When large-scale change is necessary, the team even teaches community members to lobby on their own behalf.
The CCARE folks also run a school-based program called “Eat, Move, Live,” educating kids in the do's and don'ts of cancer and diabetes prevention.
All good and important steps, to be sure. But Ashing says much more needs to be done.
“We talk to each other; we work side by side. We’re moving in the right direction, but the need for policy changes is clear. Education, health, housing and safe environments — these aren’t just privileges, they’re fundamental human rights.”
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