Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live

By Kaitlynn S.

The TED talk that I chose to analyse was “Your health depends on where you live” by Bill Davenhall. “Bill Davenhall would like to improve physicians’ diagnostic techniques by collecting the patient’s geographic and environmental data (where they have live and where they have lived in previous years) and put it together with medical records.” [Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live | Video on TED.com]

Where you live impacts your health as much as your diet does, but where you live does not show up on your medical records. In this TED Talk by Bill Davenhall, he makes you look at the big picture of your health. “In 2001, I got hit by a train. My train was a heart attack. I found myself in a hospital in an attentive care ward cooperating from an emergency surgery. And I suddenly realized something; I was completely in the dark. I started asking my questions: Why me? Why now? Why here? Could my doctor have warned me? So what I want to do here in the few minutes I have with you is really talk about the formula for life and good health.”[Bill Davenhall] The formula for life is “Genetics plus lifestyle plus environment equals risk.” [Bill Davenhall] People know that genetics and lifestyle affect your overall health, but do not realize how much the environment affects it. Through out the talk, Bill Davenhall makes you think about where you have lived, where you have been throughout your life (work, home, vacation, etc.) and where you spend most of your time. Are they at risk to you health? For nineteen years, Bill lived in Scranton, PA, and then he moved to Louisville, KY, neighbour to Rubbertown where they manufactured plastic; letting toxic particles out into the air. Then Bill moved to Los Angeles, Ca, one of the highest polluted areas in the United States. “The one thing that never happens in my doctor’s office, they never ask me about my place history. No doctor, that I can remember ever asking me where have I lived? What is the quality of water that I put in my mouth or what food do I ingest in my stomach. Look at the kind of data that is available. Countries spend billions of dollars investing in this kind of research. I have circled the places I have been in and by design I have been in the right places to have a heart attack.” [Bill Davenhall] Bill Davenhall then asked the audience where they have been the most: the white, which are the lucky people, or the red, the unlucky people. To my surprise, most of the audience had their hands up for the red parts of the United States. In conclusion, he left the audience with two prescriptions; “We must teach physicians about the value of geographic information, it is called geo-medicine.”[Bill Davenhall] and “While we are spending billions and billions of dollars all over the world building an electronic health record, we need to make sure we put a place history inside that health record.” [Bill Davenhall]. Doctors must know exactly where you have lived and where you have been so they can use the information and make more accurate diagnoses. “Geography is Destiny in medicine (Jack Lord, MD). Geography always matters, geographic information can keep you healthy” [Bill Davenhall].

I think this talk is very inspirational and a big eye opener for many people. Before I heard this talk, I had no idea that where you lived affects your health and I am almost certain that many other people feel the same way. It is scary to think that the place where you have lived your whole live is potentially slowly killing you. Bill Davenhall clearly made the point that if we do not do something about this issue, we will have big problems in the near future. He used great visuals and really hooked the audience, and myself at the beginning my telling us that he was hit by a train, and then explained exactly what he meant by this. The suggestions that Davenhall made (educating physicians about how the environment affects your health and making sure that we put a place history inside every health record) will have a big impact on the improvement in our health. When I was thinking about how this talk was about how your health depends on the environment you live in, it made me think that my aunt and uncle both grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, and they both developed cancer and died from it in the same year. Also my neighbours had family members that lived in Sarnia, Ontario as well, and the husband, wife and their eldest child out of two developed cancer and sadly died as well. Physicians did not look at the environment as a factor of them getting this cancer but it makes me think that it could definitely be one because Sarnia is a big industrial city that pollutes the environment.

In conclusion, we need to work together and educate the world about how the environment affects your health. By educating physicians about this factor to our health and making sure that we start putting place history into our health records so physicians can make more accurate diagnoses and maybe people may start to realize that what you are putting into the air is affecting your health and someday may kill you.

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