First Radio Foray

On Saturday March 29, for the first time ever, I hosted a radio program: The University of Chicago Medicine’s Dr. On Call program, on WVON Talk Radio 1690 am. The topic was Prevention Not Prescription: Bullying, Violence and the Summer Service Partnership.

I was nervous about hosting a radio show. Could I keep a conversation going? Would people tune in?
How would I balance telephone lines, mikes, open air conversation?

It was a challenge I welcomed. Luckily, Courtney Scott from WVON welcomed me to the studio, and patiently reviewed the nuts and bolts of which buttons to push to make things work.

I invited the Summer Service Partnership’s 2012 Team Woodlawn—because they are awesome, listen well and talk thoughtfully, and could lead a conversation about gun violence and communities in a non-threatening way.
And they did.
I was honored to have live with me in the studio four of the six students from SSP’s Team Woodlawn 2012:
• Tom Couri, a third year medical student at the Pritzker School of Medicine
• Rebecca Harris, also a third year medical student at the Pritzker School of Medicine
• Esther Schoenfeld, a graduating college senior at the University of Chicago (planning to apply to medical school next year)
• Sierra James, a graduating high school senior at the University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn (future surgeon or obstetrician, comparing scholarship packages and choosing which college to attend next year).

Sadly, the last two high school members of the team were unable to join us for the conversation– twins Aliyah and Olivia Singleton (who in the fall will be coming to the University of Chicago as college freshman, each with a full scholarship made possible by UChicago Promise).

In the course of the hour:
Rebecca described the Summer Service Partnership.
Tom talked about health in community context.
Esther presented gun violence and the chapter on “Injuries Not Accidents” from Prescription for a Healthy Nation.
Sierra talked about Team Woodlawn’s project addressing bullying—creating a multi-part anti-bullying curriculum that was shared with all students during advisory period in their school, as well as a poster contest–and described how school culture shifted so that there’s less bullying today.

Overall, the radio program felt good. The students were articulate, well-prepared, warm and interesting. I did my best, and am proud to say I started and ended on time, and hit every break. Tom did a great job responding to a caller who challenged the basic (evidence based) premise that making it harder for people to buy handguns meant fewer impulsive suicides and murders. I talked about the importance of funding research to get evidence about gun violence on which to base policy.

Overall, I wanted listeners to think about all the things that shape our individual behaviors, that impact our health. 70% of America’s $2.7 trillion worth of health care expenses are spent on diseases of lifestyle. The leading “actual” causes of death are smoking cigarettes (18%), diet and physical inactivity (17%), and drinking alcohol (4%). For example, smoking and drinking give you cancer, which kills. Poor diet and no activity give you heart disease, which kills.
Each person’s health is deeply affected by our individual behaviors. (Do we smoke? Drink? Exercise? Carry a loaded gun?) Our behaviors, in turn, are shaped by our relationships with friends, families, and social groups. (Do our friends smoke and offer us a cigarette? Or go for a run and invite us to join?). The organizations we are part of shape our health behaviors (do our schools have tracks where we can jog? Are we part of a gun club and learn to store bullets separately from guns?). Where we live, work and play shapes our health. And policies shape where we live, work and play.

Sierra read a passage from Prescription for a Healthy Nation that I love because it summarizes the idea of health in the context of the world we live in.
“What—if anything—does our environment have to do with our behavior and our health today? Our modern environment is made up of the streets, houses, buildings, neighborhoods, and stores that surround us, the items in them, the images we see every day, and society’s rules for behavior in schools, in the workplace, and in communities. This jumble of structures can make it easier or harder to smoke, drink, eat high-fat foods, or behave in a hundred other ways that affect our health.”

With so many things affecting health, we can choose many different ways to make a difference in the health of our communities. I am proud of the way that the students of SSP 2012 addressed social relationships in their school, helping to change the way people related to each other, ending an epidemic of bullying.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the students of the Summer Service Partnership 2014 do this summer.

You can catch future shows in the Doctor on Call series on WVON Saturdays from 3-4 pm at 1690am. It streams across the United States on “I heart radio”.
In the next three months, I will host three more shows. Tune in for future shows about yoga, obesity, and the social determinants of health.

5 thoughts on “First Radio Foray

  1. How much money would it take just one person to change their behavior in the way you’d like? If we assume that the present value of that sum is greater than the cost of future medical cost and pain, what is the resulting implied internal rate of return, for that same person? No worries about an answer, but it’s questions like this that keep ME awake at night.

    • Wouldn’t it be awesome to build an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy, less expensive choice? Then it could take LESS money to get one person to change their behavior! Like adding a one cent per ounce tax to soda in Illinois, so people buy less soda, drink less soda, gain less weight, develop less diabetes, incur fewer healthcare costs, and the state makes money to pay for Medicaid in the process. What would be some other win-win solutions?

      • Awesome? Let’s connect the dots. If you tax “soda” you are also going to be taxing “sodas” that don’t contain sugar. You are also putting the onus of tax collection on millions of retailers, creating a complex collections system.

        As philosopher-queen, you could work all the way upstream to the sugar producers, assuming you overcame all the political and cultural obstacles, but you’ll be faced with the same obstacle that my original question addresses; how much?

        Sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and vices of all sorts are choices people make – in almost all cases without comprehending the long-term costs. But that’s how people behave in general, by highly discounting future costs and inflating future benefits.

        Maybe, just maybe, the trick would be to bring home those future costs with the help of a magnifying glass. Maybe if we blew them up big enough and just plain scared people to death, they would live healthier lives. But would they be happier?

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