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Health at a Public Health Conference

November 11, 2010

This week I found myself in Denver, Colorado for the Annual American Public Health Association Conference.  The conference hosts approximately 12,000 attendees and hosts an expo, poster sessions, oral presentations, round table discussions and social networking events.

This is the third year that I have attended this conference, and all in all it’s a great way to hear about the latest research and network with those who have similar research interests. But a few items stick out like a sore thumb for a conference based on the topic of health.  Top three?  Soda, water bottles, and candy.

Soda—every time I heard the crack of a can, or saw the pile of soda cans at the socials, my heart melted.  Actually, my pancreas panged.  A health circular in Denver had an article on a  published study that found that people who consumed two or more soda’s a week are 87 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.  WebMD summarized the research in this article.  Beyond the pancreatic concerns, sodas are typically high in sugar and are linked to the increase in diabetes in our country.  Check out New York City’s campaign against soda in this New York Times article.

Water bottles—last year’s conference theme was water.  We should have come away with two things: water is scarce, and single-use water bottles are an absolute waste.  This year I noticed no differnece in the overwhelming amount of plastic, one time use,waste of money and resources, water containers.  Check out what the World Health Organization has to say about water, or’s aricle on Why Should I Choose Reusable over Recyclable. Note: you can take an empty, reusable water bottle with you on a plane (and fill it inside the airport once you’re past security).   Travel friendly? 100%!

Candy—at the expo, I would estimate that at least half of the vendors (as in, at least 100 vendors…) had free candy to give away.  I found one booth with trail mix!  But candy?  I went for the trail mix.

The three things listed above are fairly simple things to avoid – why is it so easy to access these at a ginormous health conference, yet so diffucult to access fresh, healthy foods?  I’m not perfect, and I certainly give in to the occasional soda and piece of chocolate.  Can we ask others to aim for healthy behaviors if we struggle with the same issues?  Over time I have slowly learned that leading by example is the ultimate catalyst to change.

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