Carol Smith's picture

Learning from the Duwamish River Communities

Seattle is a city built on water – its identity, its celebrated beauty, and much of its economic lifeblood comes from its relationship to Puget Sound and the rivers that flow into it.

But the Duwamish River, which runs through the center of Seattle’s urban industrial core, is not the one you see on post cards. Now named one of the largest Superfund sites in the country, it is also the river in the backyard of more than 38,000 of Seattle’s poorest and most diverse residents.

The goal of my 2010 National Health Fellowship project was to identify the community health issues that face the people living in two neighborhoods – Georgetown and South Park -- which face each other across the toxic river in the middle of the Superfund site. 

The thinking was that by identifying these problems, we could call out the issue of accountability, and more importantly point the way toward creative solutions for a portion of the population the greater Seattle community has historically ignored. The backdrop for the story was a looming multi-million dollar Superfund decision about how best to clean up the river, and to what extent.

The precipitating event for the story, though, was the closure of the bridge that links the two communities, effectively cutting off easy access to downtown Seattle a few miles away. To me it seemed the perfect metaphor for the attitude of the larger population toward those struggling to carve a life on the banks of the river that built the prosperous city down the road.


Being fat is no joke

The Los Angeles Times' beautiful story about the imprisonment of comic Billi Gordon by his own 700-lb body illustrates how obesity, a U.S. health epidemic, can take over someone's life.

The American Medical Association has found that obesity is the top preventable cause of death in this country.  They write:

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD called it the greatest threat to public health today. It kills more Americans every year than AIDS, all cancers and all accidents combined. And it's causing problems in children that were unthinkable 20 years ago.

-- Kristen Millares Young

Fast food calories? I'll take more please.

They say you are what you eat. But even when people are fully aware of what they're consuming -- it doesn't seem to make a difference.

A new study by a New York University School of Medicine professor found that mandated calorie labels on fast food restaurant menus did little to sway consumers' choices, writesRick Attig of the Oregonian.

The data comes from New York, the first U.S. state to pass such sweeping legislation. The study focused on McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken chains in impoverished neighborhoods, where rates of obesity and diabetes are often higher. Researchers collected receipts and compared orders taken two weeks before and one month after the city adopted calorie count ordinances.

While they discovered that the percentage of people who noticed the nutrition information skyrocketed (and almost 90 percent said they selected fewer calories in response), there were no significant differences in the average calories customers consumed before and after the law went into effect. In fact, in many cases, people ordered more.

It's not exactly good news for calorie posting laws developing in other states, where posting calories and banning fast food have already been disputed as effective obesity tools.

Yet, in a 2007 survey, 69 percent of Oregon residents told Northwest Health Foundation they'd like to see calorie counts on menus. They got their wish in spring this year when the House voted 44-14 in favor of such a bill.