Public Health: Individual vs. Community

In “No Fries with That,” Desmond Flagg, a PhD student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tells his story about his journey “From fatty and fried to lean and green: How I transformed my relationship with food.” I read the essay twice, and thought about it afterwards over and over again. I gravitated to my computer and drew a picture of these thoughts before they formed into words:

food_disparity2Desmond Flagg tells his story of growing up in Atlanta on an urban fast-food diet, with few full-service grocery stores or places to play outside: “Our inner-city apartment complex was far from parks and playgrounds, so we didn’t get much running-around time. And my mother, worried about our safety, told us to stay inside until she returned home from work or school.”

His life changed when he moved to Ann Arbor, and lived in a place with both real food and parks close by; he reflects, “I was exposed to new foods (artichokes!).”

Flagg’s story is inspirational, and it suggests a model for public health. It is a one story though, and I wonder, in general:

The essay, the drawing, and the question, also made me think about my running community. Yesterday I did not feel like running 10 miles, however, I commit to running with the Pacemakers every Saturday. So before I could think otherwise, I laced up and ran out the door to meet my friend, Melissa at 6:40 AM. We drove to the starting point, and I ran 10 miles, chatting the whole time with friends. I noticed the distance only when we finished, and the Garmin displayed a double digit.

Running is an individual sport, and yet I am indebted for any running achievement, like all other achievements, to the community in which I belong. After all, we are all social beings. The Qur’an explains:

There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you.” 6:38

The individual vs. community dichotomy suggests that the two mechanisms compete; however, a community consists of individuals. I should have titled this post “Public Health: Individual and Community.” We need both to bring access to real food and running to everyone, and subsequently ensure the best public health outcomes for all.