Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Women's health through women

This blogpost is participating in a Registered Dietitian Bloggerfest. Please check back daily and use the links below to read other RD's posts on Woman's Health. This post is dedicated to women coming together is special ways make the world a better place.

Last night I attended my first meeting with The Pleiades, a network of women working for a sustainable world. According to Wikipedia:
the Pleiades, or seven sisters, are an open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. Pleiades has several meanings in different cultures and traditions.
The mission of our group, Pleiades, is to "create a network of leading women thinkers to be an inspirational force within the sustainability movement. Leveraging the talents of its diverse members, Pleiades provides strategic partnerships and educational initiatives that empower the role of women in restoring balance in our lives, our communities, and the natural world."

The group was the brain child of Kathleen Frith, Assistant Director of Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment that stemmed from an idea she had in her early 20's. Our first meeting was held at member Ana Sortun's Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge. We enjoyed delectable yet simple, healthy food made of conscientious ingredients and tasted some organic and biodynamic wines. While this seems like the typical "Slowfoodie" event often criticized for being elitist, a fly on the wall would argue that the conversation had this evening was far from elitist.

A round of introductions revealed accomplished writers, activists, scientists, mothers, health care providers, farmers, teachers, artists, environmentalists, all of course, women. I was humbled to be surrounded by such agents of change.

After we enjoyed some nourishment, we moved on to a discussion. Dr. Molly Kile, a research fellow and epidemiologist in the Department of Environmental Health shared her experience in Bangladesh. In the 70's Bangladesh had a Cholera outbreak that was being perpetuated by the people's use of surface water. The international community came together to help fund water pumps that would give the people access to ground water and help control the epidemics. What is saddening is now Bangladesh faces arsenic exposure at daunting levels. It is disheartening to attempt to solve one problem, only to unavoidably create another.

Molly went on to share her story of her recent visit to Uganda, a nation of 30 million people, which according to the World Health Organization had an estimated 10.6 million cases of malaria in 2006. The estimated 70,000 to 110,000 deaths a year seriously hampers economic development. Molly's descriptions of suffering was difficult to hear. Having worked in extreme poverty, she said that regardless, you can never prepare yourself.

What is interesting about this story, and so conflicting to Molly, is that Uganda is being pushed to spray the infamous insecticide DDT to control the mosquito populations. Since the publishing of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, DDT has been banned from the US for its serious wildlife and habitat destruction. While this isn't the only approach, unfortunately things come down to the price, and DDT is cheap and effective. Molly's memory of stepping over dying children conflicts with her knowledge of the repercussions of using DDT and is sympathetically felt.Those who understand sustainability know that trying to solve the malaria problem with DDT only leads us down a path of more complex issues. What seems a silver bullet is actually a shotshell, causing unapproachable damage.

Our conversation turned to some very difficult questions. What is out of balance in the system? How can balance be restored? How does population and population control play a role? How do we address issues culturally? Why is money alway at the root? What can I do?

As the intensity of the conversation began to lighten, Kathleen brought us full circle to answer the question, "What can I do?" Having just spent a couple hours hearing a story, asking questions and discussing what is often difficult to discuss, we had achieved a part of Kathleen's vision for the Pleiades: to learn from and support each other. Through one person's account we all knew a bit more about our world and our place in it. What is interesting about the Pleiades constellation is that it is easier to see clearly out of your peripheral vision. Our group hopes to be seen making change within the peripheral of our community and world.

In a world facing insurmountable issues like poverty, climate change, disease, water and food shortages, habitat destruction and economic downturn, we can often feel helpless. For many women, the strength of community helps lessen the burden and gives an arena to discuss solutions, but this gathering of women is also good for our health. According to a new study when women are under stress they release more oxytocin, which encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, creating a “tend and befriend” notion developed by Drs. Laura Klein and Shelly Taylor.

Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. “There’s no doubt,” says Dr. Klein, “that friends are helping us live.”

Want to make a difference in your community? Start a community women's group. Talk about the issues facing your neighborhood and your world. Be a source of strength for each other. A woman's traditional role in the society is the nurturer and our communities could use a bit more nourishment. By creating a space to have the talk that women have when they are together, you are being the change.

Angela White at Blisstree's Breastfeeding 1-2-3 - Helpful Skills of Breastfeeding Counselors
Angie Tillman, RD, LDN, CDE - You Are Beautiful Today
Anthony J. Sepe - Women's Health and Migraines
Ashley Colpaart - Women's health through women
Charisse McElwaine - Spending too much time on the "throne?"
Danielle Omar - Yoga, Mindful Eating and Food Confidence
Diane Preves M.S.,R.D - Balance for Health
Joan Sather - A Woman's Healthy Choices Affect More Than Herself
Laura Wittke - Fibro Study Recruits Participants
Liz Marr, MS, RD - Reflecting on Family Food Ways and Women's Work
Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, NSCA-CPT - Healthy Women, Healthy Business: How Your Health Impacts a Powerful Business
Marsha Hudnall - Breakfast Protein Helps Light Eaters Feel Full
Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD - A Nutritionista's Super Foods for Super Skin
Monika Woolsey, MS, RD - To effectively work with PCOS is to understand a woman's health issues throughout her life
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog - How breastfeeding helps you, too
Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, LD - Four Keys to Wellness, Just for Women
Renata Mangrum, MPH, RD - The busy busy woman
Robin Plotkin, RD, LD - Feeding the Appetites of the Culinary, Epicurious and Nutrition Worlds-One Bite at a Time
Sharon Solomon - Calories, longevity and do I care
Terri L Mozingo, RD, CDN & D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN of One Source Nutrition, LLC - Crossing the Line: From Health to Hurt
Wendy Jo Peterson, RD - Watch Your Garden Grow


My Year Without said...

I'm not a registered dietitian (yet!) but I have some interesting information about sugar, health and nutrition in general on my blog!

Liz Marr, MS, RD said...

Women supporting women can be a very powerful basis for community engagement. Thanks for sharing your experience!

I was fortunate to get to spend 7 years on our local safehouse board. It's an organization that was established by women for women and children, and still has an all-women board nearly 30 years after its inception. I learned so much from other women during that volunteer experience and have been able to apply to my everyday life, including food and nutrition endeavors.

hormonewoman said...


One of the biggest challenges in working with PCOS is getting women who are sick because they are personally out of balance, take a step back and consider that they may be out of balance because their environment and how they relate to it is out of balance.

I am really grateful that you have chosen to do what you do, because the answer to all of those imbalances lies with good food policy.

Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the blogfest!

Monika M. Woolsey, MS, RD

Marsha @ Green Mountain at Fox Run said...

What a great topic. It's clear in so many areas that support is crucial to success, and sometimes it's women supporting women that can make the greatest difference for us. Your group sounds interesting. Good luck in your efforts.

Ashley Colpaart said...

Thank you all for you comments. Taking the time to write them just supported me! :)

Renata said...

What a timely post. When I became a mother, I became acutely aware of how isolated women's lives have become. Many women are going through the same struggles and they are doing it all alone. They could even be living next door. It is my desire to engage in the lives of other women in my community, through mentoring or interactions, and simply spending time together. And living in community also reminds us that there are other serious issues beyond our little struggles.

Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, NSCA-CPT said...

Hi Ashley,

Wow, what a wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing, especially on the special BLogfest celebration! I really do believe that women standing together can change the world!


Jen said...

thanks for all these resources. what a wonderful idea.

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Colon and Liver Cleanse said...

Great posting. I live in a developing country, Indonesia. The story that Dr Molly Kile shared is happened in my country too.