Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Office of Majority Health

I typically find Glen Beck to be unwatchable. I don't think he's usually worth the effort to be offended. But I found this clip to be so overtly racist that I couldn't help but wonder how he gets away with what he does.

Mostly I was interested because he specifically calls out the Office of Minority Health(OMH) for committing all sorts of evil against white people. And he seems to really have a problem with Doritos, as seen around 3:10.

After an initial rant about Obama and reparations, Beck introduces his guest, Linda Chavez, and the conversation turns to talk of Obama settling "old racial scores" and racial "preferences" within the administration's policies.

The two talk about OMH's supposed conspiracy to prove that minorities receive inferior health care than whites. Beck throws up air quotes when saying OMH wants to "nudge the system into a more 'fair' system of health care." Does he not believe that is what OMH is meant to do? Or does he not believe that a fair system would be one in which all Americans receive equal health care?

Chavez really gets me around 3:30 when she says: "A lot of our unequal health outcomes have to do with not just income but behavior... they're going to try to turn this into a race issue." During which Beck is also complaining simultaneously that "There is no Office of Majority Health."

Chavez is not a nurse, doctor, public health professional, epidemiologist. She's not even a dental hygienist. For what reason would she be invited to talk about health disparities, the causes of obesity and medical school admissions on the Glen Beck variety show? Because she knows how to spread racial angst to white people almost better than Beck himself.

Let's look at OMH's explanation for its own existence:

Why we were established

Poor health outcomes for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are apparent when comparing their health indicators against those of the rest of the U.S. population. These populations experience higher rates of illness and death from health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, specific cancers, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma, hepatitis B, and overweight and obesity. OMH's primary responsibility is to improve health and health care outcomes for racial and ethnic minority communities by developing or advancing policies, programs, and practices that address health, social, economic, environmental and other factors which impact health.

Let's think about the Beck/Chavez explanation of obesity among minorities. Beck says it's that they must eat more Doritos than everyone else and that they should just stop. Chavez says it's really about individual behaviors or "what people do to themselves" and that OMH is making it a race issue.

If only health were as simple as the individual decisions we make for ourselves. As with all public health issues, obesity is extremely complex and related to factors that reach far beyond an individual's decision to eat Doritos instead of an apple. While it may seem intuitive that human adults should have the ultimate control over what we put into our mouths, you cannot ignore that environmental conditions and policy makers often have much more control over which foods find their way to our tables. Processed food is cheaper than fresh food. Major supermarkets do not open stores in low-income neighborhoods. Schools cut back physical education programs as they also down-grade the quality of food they feed our children. Beck and Chavez are happy to ignore these truths and blame poor health on the individual instead of the system that is proven to influence health outcomes.

Beck complains that there is no Office of Majority Health. This, of course, is not true. If the US Department of Health and Human Services had always had the best interest of all Americans in mind, the US would not have the embarrassing health statistics it has now. But, as an arm of a government with a racist past, how could this organization have been anything but an Office of Majority Health? All government institutions were once run by and for the exclusive benefit of white men.

Maybe one day the OMH will no longer be necessary. But currently African American infants die at a rate twice that of white infants. Would Linda Chavez blame this horrifying statistic purely on the behavior of African American mothers? I have a feeling she would.

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