Guest Post - David Spero

by: Heather on 11/12/2008
Posted in: Guest Posts

This fascinating post-election reflection just in from David Spero, author of Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis. Thanks David!

In researching and writing Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis, I learned about the social causes of illness. Not just bad food and little access to medical care. Everybody knows about those, but they really play a rather small part in the health problems of poor and oppressed people.

The bigger causes of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, some mental illness are mind/body connections. It's the daily stress, the lack of self-confidence, the insecurity, the feelings of anger, grief, and self-doubt that cause the majority of chronic illness. In my book, I classed these causes (mind/body and physical) as environmental illness. I reported research showing that empowering people helps their physical health and their health behaviors, too.

Now we have a chance to test these theories experimentally. Ever since Barack Obama's victory on November 4, African-Americans have been telling people how good they feel. I've collected a number of these quotes and corresponded with some of the people who said them. One professor at San Francisco State wrote, "This legitimated our presence in the US, which it will continue to do, even if Barack doesn't keep his promises. We've all lived in a country that for our entire lives has told us that we are shit. We know that many people we see in the street think we are shit. The election of Obama lifts some of that load." Others have said they feel like they had been carrying a tremendous weight and hadn't realized it until they put it down. Others felt "liberated" or "like I don't have to prove myself anymore."

I theorized that these emotional effects should be reflected in lower blood pressures and possibly blood sugars (because stress raises both BP and BS.) There are several ongoing studies of hypertension going on, so they should be able to note if there is any significant effect.

Non-Blacks might also get some BP benefit from Obama's victory. If we're not having terror thrown in our faces every day, if we don't have to worry about when the next war will start, we might be more relaxed. People have told me they feel this way now. This effect wouldn't be as strong as the African-Americans' effect, where you have the 1st time ever experience of seeing someone like you in a position of greatest prominence and power. That's an experience that can leave people feeling less stressed for years.

But how long will it last, and how strong will the benefit be? I think a lot depends on whether Obama can keep his promises, and since his promises aren't all that great, can he undo some of the damage of the Bush years? Can he move our country and others towards seriously addressing global warming? Will he stop the horrors of the War on Terror? It also depends on how long he lives and keeps his office.

I actually have little confidence about O's ability to make many significant changes. It seems like we're more and more in a military oligarchy with a thin democratic veneer. If O doesn't do much, will that cut into the health benefits of his election? And if he does make significant change, what kind of benefits will we see? That's the question I hope we get to find out. Feel free to correspond here or check out my website for more information.

Diabetes

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