MPHA and Social Justice

As a Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) major at Brandeis, I have learned and studied the health inequalities that are present within the United States. Two classes at Brandeis that I took that especially focused on this topic were “Health, Community, and Society” taught by Professor Peter Conrad, and “Sociology of Body and Health” taught by Professor Sarah Shostak. These classes caught my full attention when the topic of health inequality in the United States was brought up.

Both classes examined healthy food access and the consequences that arise when healthy and affordable food is not accessible. In “Health, Community, and Society,” I was given the task to interview various people about how they viewed their own health. I was given the flexibility to create the questions for the people I interviewed, so I focused my questions around food access and made sure that the people I interviewed were from a diverse array of socio-economic backgrounds. After conducting these interviews, I noticed that the ways in which people viewed their health tended to vary amongst socio-economic classes. People that I interviewed from a lower socio-economic class tended to feel that they had less control over their health compared to people from a higher socio-economic class. This is due to a lesser amount of opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle.

In “Sociology of Body and Health”, I was given the task to interview the person in charge of buying groceries from two different families. I interviewed my mother, whose home is located in a food swamp, and I interviewed my friend’s mother who lives in an affluent community. A food swamp is an area that has too much access to unhealthy and cheap food. These areas have a large amount of fast food restaurants in a small space and are generally found in low-income neighborhoods. This is much different than an affluent neighborhood that has less access to unhealthy food and greater access to healthy foods.

As you can probably imagine, the two interviews were drastically different. My mother focused more on foods being cost-effective and convenient, whereas my friend’s mother had the freedom to buy essentially anything that she wanted for her family. There are many grocery stores in her neighborhood and a Whole Foods nearby. Her neighborhood did not have nearly as many fast food options as my mother’s neighborhood which is swamped with options.

This is an example of a food swamp, an area swamped with unaffordable food options that are cheap and convenient.

My experiences interviewing people about health and food in these courses motivated me to obtain an internship with a focus on creating healthy and affordable food options for everyone. Thankfully, the Massachusetts Public Health Association focuses on just that. They have secured $6 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program, which “provides loans, grants, and technical assistance to support new and expanded healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate income communities. This could include grocery stores, corner stores, farmer’s markets, mobile markets, community kitchens, food co-ops food truck commissaries, indoor and outdoor greenhouses, and food distribution hubs.” This is so important because what you put into your body plays a huge role in your health in the future. It is harder for some people to prevent diseases that happen due to poor diet (heart disease, diabetes, etc.), therefore it is necessary to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity of eating healthy and therefore preventing these diseases.

This map of Massachusetts shows the differences in access to grocery stores from city to city.

Since I have all of this previous knowledge that I gained at Brandeis, I am very excited to work with MPHA. I will have the opportunity to interview people about how MPHA has positively impacted their lives, and I am very excited to hear about the great things that MPHA has done for people in low-income communities in regards to unequal access to healthy and affordable food. Because of the knowledge that I’ve gained as an HSSP major, I will feel confident conducting these interviews and will have the ability to acquire answers and experiences from these people that will then be published for many to see and, hopefully, be inspired to participate in ending health inequalities.

Karen Caldwell ’18