I found Dr. Heather Gardiner’s talk this past Friday very interesting. While I got the impression that a fair bit of her current work and research is still in the early stages (early meaning there are still follow up studies to be done and/or that are currently in the process of being conducted/analyzed/reviewed), I believe her and her team(s) findings are very important in helping to treat and prevent End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). I was particularly interested because she studies racial disparities in treatment and prevention of ESRD—at least, that is a portion of her research. In taking Health Psych this semester and being knowledgeable about racial disparities on many other fronts, I was not surprised by the fact that racial/ethnic minorities are at greater risk of ESRD than whites. I briefly was taken aback by Native Americans being 9.5 times greater, but when all is taken into account it, unfortunately, makes sense.
I must say I couldn’t help but be annoyed when I learned of how hemodialysis patients are dealt with, specifically with regards to weight loss (of course, this is no fault of Dr. Gardiner—my annoyance is with the System). What would seem illogical to me in telling obese patients to not lose weight somehow turns out to be “best practice.” As Dr. Gardiner explained, this is so because the extra weight (and therefore extra water within the person) is good to have because the point of dialysis is to suck out a bunch of toxins and water because his/her kidneys are not working properly to perform this function… I apologize for using “because” three times in one sentence… Nonetheless, what further irked me was the fact that to get a transplant, doctors want you to be “healthy enough” (e.g. not obese), so you go from being encouraged not to lose weight to being told you need to lose weight in order to receive the very best treatment and live your best life. And to add to all of that, of course minority populations have access to poorer healthcare, or access to less healthcare in general, as well as are more likely to live in food deserts, and therefore are just unhealthier (on average) overall. Thus, when a racial/ethnic minority is eligible for a transplant, his/her odds of finding a proper match are significantly reduced because his/her family members are more likely to be unhealthy and therefore unfit to transplant with.
This was all news to me despite it all making very plain sense. I’m glad I had the chance to hear Dr. Gardiner speak and learn more about ESRD. Though it does not affect anyone in my immediate family (that I know of and hope that remains the same), having now learned about hemodialysis and the poor measures of differentiating between adiposity and muscle mass (BMI still being the main measure), I am that much more encouraged to sustain my healthy lifestyle and to continue to encourage others around me.