Monday, September 21, 2009


Please allow me a brief digression before I get on to the "meat" of this post. First let me say I read a lot of blogs; many of them are anonymous. When I started a blog, I debated about whether my own blog should be anonymous or not. If you're anonymous you're able to speak a little more freely on your blog because you don't need to completely censor what you're going to say ("OMG, can you believe my crazy colleague Joe asked me to do bizarre thing ZZZ today?"). This is because for the most part people don't know who you are it is unlikely it will ever make it back to Joe what it was that you said. If you make the decision to blog as yourself -- complete with a name and a picture -- you really need to think about what it is you're going to say. It's possible that if you're googled, your blog will come up. I thought about this a bit when starting my blog but eventually decided I was ok with being out in the open about my struggle with weight and with food. I mean, if you look at me it's not exactly a secret that I'm obese (although, I am now only obese -- no longer morbidly obese. Though not a victory in the absolute sense, I'll take it...).

All this disclaimer to say...I'm not sure if it's ok to write about this as my non-anonymous self on the blog. I may take this post down if I decide later it was a mistake to write about. The reason I consider this in bounds for the blog -- even though it has a decidedly professional slant -- it intersects majority with my personal life and my decision and determination to promote my own health via a concerted effort to lose weight and exercise.

Today one of the sessions that I participated in at the conference I am attending was about disease prevention and health promotion. Obviously this is something that I have a very personal stake in (though, I suppose we all do). More specifically, the topic we were discussing was how can industrial engineering (IE -- my profession) tools be leveraged to help envision and shape the healthcare system of the future (2016). For the non-IEs among my blog readers, here is a definition of IE.
Industrial engineering is a branch of engineering that concerns the development, improvement, implementation and evaluation of integrated systems of people, money, knowledge, information, equipment, energy, material and process.
Healthcare is most definitely in the scope of the type of integrated systems that IEs can and should work in.

So how can IEs help with disease prevention and health promotion? The answer to me is not obvious. I should also underscore that this is such a personal topic for me, having high blood pressure and being obese. One of the main things that strikes me is that much of this is a cultural and environmental issue, as well as a behavioral science one. This is not something IE can do alone. IE tools alone can't help me learn how to treat food as fuel for my body rather than a security blanket. Mathematical models aren't there to make me momentarily feel better when I am sad. Systems engineering doesn't calm me down when I have a fight with a friend or my mom. Coping strategies and behavioral modification might, and these are rooted in behavioral science -- but IE and its associated tools alone seem insufficient to help with this suite of problems.

One of the tough things was the veiled contempt people seemed to have for those who are not promoting their own health -- mostly smokers and the overweight and obese. I agree these are huge problems that are straining our burgeoning healthcare system. I agree that people should take control our health -- but as a fat person may I add that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? That is, please don't pile judgement and scorn on those of us who are fat. For the most part, we know it and are really sad and distraught about it already. We don't need a layer of judgement on top of our own guilt. That is not to say you need to enable us and give us donuts when we're sad, but a little empathy can go a long way. It is hard to be fat in America, even without you further trampling on our fragile self image. (Please note: I accept responsibility for my actions that have led to my being fat and am trying to deal with it -- but in general, the attitude toward the obese in this nation is pretty terrible.) Also it does not take into account all of the relevant factors. See this post about judgement.

Let me end on a slightly braggy note, but one that was really neat and easily one of the three high points of my day. Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer in the US, spoke to the 25 or so of us at this conference today. This was after he rode on Air Force One earlier in the day to brief Obama about electronic medical records. You can meet some really cool people in this job.

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