Former NMA President Dr. Vivian Pinn Urges Fight For Equality In Health Care

Vivian Pinn( — During the 23rd Annual Mazique Symposium, keynote speaker Vivian Pinn, MD, urged NMA members to continue their work for equity in all areas of health care. “Serious inequities in health and health care still exist,” Dr. Pinn said. But members of the NMA are uniquely poised “to promote the best that medicine has to offer” to all underserved ethnic groups.

Dr. Pinn was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, where her interest in medicine and women’s health issues began at an early age. She helped care for her grandparents and give her diabetic grandmother insulin shots. Her interest crystallized after doctors continually dismissed her mother’s complaints of chronic pain. This pain turned out to be bone cancer, however, and her mother died when Dr. Pinn was just 19. She ultimately attended medical school at the University of Virginia, where she was both the only woman and only African American in her class. Currently, she is the director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she works to make sure that women and women’s issues are included in NIH research. She is also a past president of the NMA.

In her keynote address, Dr. Pinn reminded attendees that the NMA has a vital role to play in improving health care on the national scene.

“We are part of a continuum of mutual empowerment,” she said. “I hope this conference will strengthen us as individuals, so that we can continue to provide excellent medical care in an effective health care delivery system.”

The ongoing economic crisis and threatened budget cutbacks, however, might prevent physicians from delivering the best possible health care to all their patients, Dr. Pinn said. Many in the room are “fearful of the future” because of threatened cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, as well as potential changes to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The NMA must continue its leadership role in advocating for the continuation of these programs so health disparities don’t grow.

“We must keep making our voices heard,” she said. “As physicians and scientists, we need to deliver health care first, but also deliver the message of the need for health equity.” Delivery of this message to local and national politicians will help influence important legislation that will affect the ability of underserved populations to seek effective care.

Dr. Pinn closed her talk with a call for NMA members to leave the 2011 Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly with “power and purpose, so that the wisdom of our united effort can, and does, make a difference.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,” she said, and she told NMA members “to continue the spirit of struggle for what you believe in.”

The symposium honors Edward Craig Mazique, MD, who was born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1911. A past president of the NMA, his career spanned more than four decades. He was one of the first African Americans admitted to the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, and was active in the NAACP and its efforts to desegregate schools. He died in 1988, the same year that the first Mazique symposium was presented.


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Michelle Obama Tackles “Food Deserts”

Michelle Obama( — First lady Michelle Obama recently announced that several major retailers, foundations and small businesses have committed to bringing healthier food to neighborhoods where supermarkets are scarce.

But she knows it’s not going to be easy. If you have kids, you know that given the choice of Kit-Kats or kiwis, kids will pick usually pick the candy. But today’s target is the parents living in so-called “food deserts.”

“If a parent wants to pack a piece of fruit in a child’s lunch… they shouldn’t have to take three city buses,” Mrs. Obama said during a press conference today.

As part of her Let’s Move campaign, the First Lady wants to help families make better choices — especially the 23.5 million Americans living in largely urban, low-income areas where access to healthy food can be spotty.

The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has identified this challenge of bringing more nutritious, affordable foods to so-called food deserts as one of the key pillars to solving the epidemic.

“We can give people all of the information in the world about healthy eating… but if parents can’t buy the food they need to prepare those meals… if their only options for groceries are in the corner gas station or the local mini mart, then all of that is just talk… and that’s not what Let’s Move is about,” she said.

The new initiative builds on a pledge announced in January with Walmart. The nation’s largest food retailer says it knows firsthand how important access to good food is. “We will use our position to reduce the cost of an increase access to healthy foods,” wrote Chad Mitchell on the Walmart community blog.

Walmart pledged today to open up to 300 stores in food deserts by 2016, but other giant retailers are involved, too. Walgreens says it will start offering whole fruits and vegetables, SUPERVALU is building 250 new stores, and various smaller groups are joining forces and money in the effort.

The White House admits that no single initiative is a magic bullet. And the goal of melting some inches off our collective waistline is complicated.

Consider the study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which blames the easy access to fast food options for obesity problems, rather than a lack of stores selling healthy food.

Yet another recent study from the University of Maine finds easy access to junk food doesn’t appear to affect students’ body mass index.

But making the healthy stuff easier to get may be a good start.