Signature Class lecture discusses the importance of local solutions to health care problems


Raj Patel, research professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, shares his experience with food production in Malawi. He and Lourdes Rodrigues, director of the Center for Place-Based Initiatives at the Dell Medical School, were speakers at the Vital Signs lecture on Tuesday.
Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Speakers emphasized the need for community involvement in solving local health care problems at a Vital Signs lecture titled “Food and Parks are Health: Unexpected Solutions for Systemic Challenges” Tuesday.

Raj Patel, research professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and Lourdes Rodriguez, director of the Center for Place-Based Initiatives at Dell Medical School, discussed two non-clinical factors that can impact health — food and parks. Both speakers said it is important to apply local solutions to local problems.

Patel shared an anecdote about a program that promoted agriculture in Malawi in an attempt to reduce malnutrition. Because of the gender roles in the area, women were responsible for harvesting the crops, causing a decline in breastfeeding and food production at home and an increase in malnutrition. In proposing solutions for food insecurity both in Malawi and in Austin, he said it is important to get ideas from the community.

“Although we prefer to sprinkle supermarkets on the (food) problems and hope that it goes away, communities can generate some of the best ideas, and some of the most effective ideas, for ending food insecurities in this town,” Patel said.

Rodriguez said she was a member of the team that informed the Northern Manhattan Parks Master Plan to reopen some of the parks in Manhattan. Although she said her initiative was successful in New York, she emphasized the importance of finding a solution customized to Austin to solve its health care problems.

“What we’re trying to do is not replicate what we’ve been doing in New York because that’s a very different place than here, but (create) opportunities to get input from our neighbors in Austin, Travis County and Central Texas that will drive the type of activities that will be engaging in that sector,” she said.

Nutrition junior Abbie Nevins said she attended the lecture because of her interest in community health.

“(What the speakers said about) putting the focus on the communities and letting them take charge of what they want and getting their emotions and hearts involved in it was really powerful for me,” Nevins said.

Vital Signs is a Signature Course at UT. The course leads participants to explore common beliefs about health care and rethink these approaches to discuss the future of health care. Since Jan. 24, the course has been holding lectures with various speakers from the Dell Medical School.