Reading the Sunday newspapers is a great way to round out the past week and see what may be coming in the week ahead. A recent Sunday New York Times had an article about health that offered an underlying question about the relationship between health and faith. The story was about an area in East Texas that has changed its moniker from the Bible Belt to the Stroke Belt – at least by health care providers.
Anderson County in East Texas is known for its friendly people and old Southern cooking. It’s also known for its high rate of strokes and heart failure and for the fact that people die earlier down there; especially black people. All you can eat diners are everywhere, and they are often full. These restaurants are the norm, filled with the kind of home cooking that people there love. Fried fish, fried burgers, French fries, fried dough and pretty much every other food you can think of – all fried.
As is the norm, the poor and minorities are affected by ill health the most. Even for those with insurance, there’s a distrust that goes way back. Black people have an inherent distrust of the medical community down there (some of it undeniably warranted) and follow ups are rarely made, according to doctors. Some people know they’re not well and would rather stay in denial than get a catastrophic diagnosis. Chain-smoking and all-you-can-eat restaurants are killing the people of Anderson County at a rate far higher that other areas around the state.
This isn’t all surprising--we know the United States is in big trouble when it comes to health. But what was striking--the most striking, perhaps--was what doctors realize is a common feeling among the people of that county and put simply by one man in failing health due to his lifestyle: “When the good Lord says, ‘It’s time for you to go,’ it’s time for you to go,” Jerry Walding said. “It ain’t up to me or to nobody else.”
Walding is 47 and lost his 45-year-old his brother to heart disease. His mother died of the same disease when she was 65 and his dad died of a stroke at 72. Walding seems to think it’s a sort of grand plan that he has no control over.