The prescription for healthier living and lowering health care
costs has much to do with eating better, exercising more and
managing chronic conditions.
But give that advice to a family that lives in poverty, has
diabetes, depression problems and a parent on disability, and it's
not so simple to carry out.
Steven Gomez envisions a day when that family would receive one-
on-one help with more than their physical concerns when they go to a
doctor's appointment. Gomez is working on his doctorate in medical
anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, and his work - which
examines societal and cultural issues affecting health - has
introduced him to the reality of how many Oklahomans live.
"It's easy to tell people to stop doing that and start doing
this," Gomez said. "But when you talk to people and visit their
homes, there are endless reasons why they're not able to do that."
For his doctorate, Gomez spent time at Health For Friends, a
Norman clinic that provides care for the uninsured. Health for
Friends will soon begin making the concept of medical anthropology a
reality. The clinic recently received a $50,000 grant from the
Astellas Foundation to hire a licensed clinical social worker to
help people with issues beyond their medical, dental and pharmacy
Gomez's work illuminated the need for a social worker. By
interviewing patients and visiting their homes to better understand
their challenges to living a healthy lifestyle, he discovered that
no simple fix exists. Some people are only able to go grocery
shopping once a month, so buying fresh fruits and vegetables isn't
feasible, he said. Others buy only what is on sale or food that they
know will make them feel full because they can only afford to eat
once a day.
The discouraging part of his work was that most people knew what
they were eating was bad, but they felt powerless to do things
"A single dad whose house I visited had a stockpile of food in
his pantry," Gomez said. "He said, 'I don't shop with a grocery list
for what I want; I shop for what's on sale. So if hot dogs are on
sale, I'll buy a ton of them because my son needs to eat. I know
it's not the best for us, but that's what's cheap and that's what
will make my disability payment stretch for the entire month.'"
Other people bought healthy food for their children but deprived
themselves to stretch their budgets, Gomez said.
Low income affected people in other ways, Gomez found. Diabetics
often tested their blood sugar less frequently so they could save on
the expense of test strips, and others even tried to stretch out
their insulin, a potentially dangerous practice. …