My Experience at the Glamsino Royale

ActionAIDS held a benefit event on Thursday, February 27, 2014. The name of this event was the Glamsino Royale and it surely was  fabulous! MHIB was there to capture moments and enjoy a wonderful evening! ActionAIDS is an organization based in Philadelphia, PA with a mission to create an AIDS-free generation through education , testing, treatment and support for those affected by HIV. I am a volunteer for the organization and I must say that it is a fulfilling role.

The guest speaker of the night was  Project Runway All-Star’s Viktor Luna. Viktor gave a moving speech about his upbringing, how he found out he was HIV positive and how thankful he was for all of the support he has had along the way.

Viktor was just a normal 20-something year old living in New York City, doing things a lot of things that 20-somethings do. Sometimes when we are young, we feel invincible, but unfortunately, Viktor got a call from his doctor instructing him to come in for a face-to-face meeting. Viktor admits that he was known as the “paranoid” one of his friends, so he automatically assumed he was HIV positive. This time, his worrisome manner proved to be true. He admits to feeling like his life was over.

He had just met somone very special and believed that he could be in love. How would he face this person? How would they react?

As time went on, Viktor became more educated on HIV and AIDS. He learned about the treatment and eventually, he realized that he did indeed have a purpose on this earth. He realized that although HIV requires a lot of daily medication, his life would continue as normal.

For all you hopeless romantics out there: Viktor revealed his status to the person he was dating immediately after he found out. Thankfully, the person he was dating was super supportive and they are still together to this day… SEVEN (count ’em!) YEARS and counting!

Viktor auditioned for Project Runway and was asked to join the cast after his first audition, when many others audition for multiple seasons before landing a role as cast member on the popular fashion design show. He was a finalist on his season and was invited back for Project Runway All-Stars a few seasons later. This was when he decided that he was going to be 100% himself; he chose to use the show as a platform to reveal his status, but more importantly educate people and support  those who may feel alone.

Viktor’s story is one of courage and by speaking out, he touches so many lives. He is a voice for many people living with HIV because of his celebrity status and I am  proud of him for opening up and helping others.

Overall, the event was wonderful! Obviously, because of its theme, there were many casino-style tables set up; attendees played blackjack and other games. The DJ was amazing and the food was even better!

If you are thinking of getting involved in your community, there are many volunteer opportunities available  everywhere. Just find something you’re passionate about and take action!

Photos: 1- Glamsino Royale Attendees; 2- Guests enjoying the event games; 3- Kevin Burns, Executive Director of ActionAIDS; 4- Viktor Luna giving his speech; 5- Glamsino Royale Attendees who were kind enough to pose for two pictures (thank you both :-)) 6- Glamsino Royale Attendees

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OraQuick & What it Means for Girls and Women

By now  you may have heard of OraQuick, an over  the  counter in-home HIV test. Anyone can buy it and anyone who is sexually active should. This home test not only allows for an increase in privacy but it also lessens people’s apprehension about getting tested. You no longer have to  schedule an appointment and wait  for hours to be seen by a health professional. The test is reliable; however, I  must note that  there  is a chance a person could receive  a “false  positive” result. This means that someone who has HIV may receive results that say otherwise. This does not happen often but it doesn’t hurt to get a 2nd opinion.

This in-home test is a step in the right direction because sexually-active girls and women can now have even more control over their health. Several campaigns such as The Act Against AIDS and One Test Two Lives were created for women. The Act Against AIDS campaign targets African American women as its key demographic. This campaign urges this group of individuals to get tested and know their status, rather than taking their partner’s word for it. African American men are the #1 most affected group of HIV. Men having sex  with men  (MSM) make up a large percentage of this group; please note that some individuals in this group do not always categorize themselves as “gay” or “homosexual” (exclusively having sex with men)  so there is a chance that they are sexually active with women  as well.

There is an extremely significant imbalance in HIV rates of African American males and African American females. This extreme  gap concerns health promoters because this could mean that many women are unaware of their status or unaware of the importance of  getting  tested. African American females are the #1 group among females that are diagnosed with HIV. The Act Against AIDS campaign is important in educating these girls and women and hopefully decreasing rates of virus transmission. Take  charge of your health. Don’t be so quick to  put your health in the hands of another, regardless of how much you love each other. At times, the men are not aware of their status either. In the cases where individuals are aware of their HIV status, they sometimes feel that they will be stigmatized if they reveal it to others. This ends up being way worse, as you can imagine. It is better to reveal your status to your current partner AS WELL AS all past sexual partners. As uncomfortable as it might be, you can save lives by telling the truth. HIV is not a death sentence. Medication has come a long way. So much research has been done on HIV and AIDS; people who discover the virus early and stay dedicated to daily treatment can live full lives.

The One Test. Two Lives. campaign was created for pregnant women. It is important that girls and women who are pregnant get tested for HIV if they are unaware of their status. This is because the health of the baby could be affected in a major way if the mother forgoes testing. If the mother is HIV positive and gets tested, the rate of the baby contracting HIV from the mother could be less than 2%. “How”, you ask? By the help of Antiretroviral Therapy. After the HIV status of the mother is know by healthcare professionals, the baby  will undergo treatment while developing in the womb. After the birth of the baby, HIV positive mothers might wonder if they can breastfeed their non-HIV positive children. The answer is YES🙂

Don’t believe me?

Please click here for  more info on  HIV positive mothers and breastfeeding: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/1/10-030110/en/

Hopefully this information encourages girls and women to find out what their HIV status is. With OraQuick, finding out your  status is easy and confidential. OraQuick can be purchased at many neighborhood pharmacies and drugstores…. and Walmart (I know… they have everything)

Please educate yourself. Please help to educate others.

The more  we know, the better our outcomes🙂

P.S. If you are in the Philadelphia area, support ActionAIDS as a volunteer. This organization is dedicated to HIV education, testing and support.

Breastfeeding is the #1 Choice, Hands Down

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It is no secret to Public Health professionals that there is a lot of misinformation purported in regard to breastfeeding. It is common for someone who has not studied or worked in the health field to have questions about the benefits of breastfeeding and whether it is better than infant formula. Even many pregnant women and women who have had children in the United States are not fully aware that breastfeeding is the number 1 choice for infant nutrition.

***Recommendations: Women are advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics to breastfeed exclusively for 6  months and then  continue breastfeeding for 1 year or longer, while introducing other foods to the baby after the 6-month mark.

Why is breastfeeding the #1 choice?

Benefits for baby:

1.) Reduced risk of infection

2.) Reduced risk of obesity

3.) Lower risk of asthma

4.) Reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome

5.) Lower risk of leukemia

6.) Lower risk of diabetes

7.) Possible increase in cognitive function and/ or IQ

Benefits for the mother:

1.) Quicker and easier recovery after giving birth

2.) Less postpartum bleeding

3.) Cost-efficiency: breastfeeding saves money

4.) Delay in return of menstrual cycle, which means extended time between pregnancies

5.) Reduced risk for arthritis, diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer

Why are these mothers unaware or why do they choose to use infant formula instead of breast milk?

Here are a few reasons:

1.) They were never taught

Some pregnant women are unaware that nutrition education should begin soon after they discover they are pregnant. Therefore, they do not immediately seek professional input. Healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, nutritionists, counselors) also play a part in this. It is imperative that they educate these pregnant women from  the first medical visit and onward. Topics that should be covered include: health benefits for mother and baby and the fact that formula does not produce that same benefits. It is important to not only educate but also support because women might have been misinformed by trusted family members and friends. Studies have shown that women who are encouraged by healthcare professionals to breastfeed are three times as likely to breastfeed than women who did not receive the same encouragement.

2.) Input from family and friends/ insufficient outside support

As mentioned above, women sometimes receive  the wrong information from family and friends. Rather than seeking a second or third opinion from an informed professional, they take the advice of loved ones as scripture. It is the responsibility of family and friends to encourage the mothers to seek more outside education on breastfeeding.

3.) Busy schedules

In this day and age, many mothers are also professional women. It can be difficult to balance work life and home life and many women are faced  with conflicting thoughts as a result. Nevertheless, it is possible that infants receive proper nutrition before, during and after their mother’s time at work. The breast pump is an amazing invention that allows a mother to pump, bottle and store breast milk for later use. The recommendation for working moms is to a) feed from the breast while with the baby  and b) instruct the baby’s caretaker to feed  the baby using the bottled breast  milk while the mother is away.

4.) Using infant formula is easier…duh

Because of various demands (medical, psychological, social), encountered along the way, many mothers simply find infant formula to be more  convenient and less tedious. Please be advised that the benefits of breastfeeding undoubtedly outweigh the inconveniences in the long-term.

In conclusion, breast milk is the best choice for a strong and healthy baby and child. Its benefits for mothers aren’t bad either.

#MeatlessMonday – Lentil Burger

The Burger: something that we all love but isn’t necessarily the best for us.

Also something that is easy to make. Why not turn it into something that still tastes amazing and is good for us?

Try this:

Lentil and Cheese Burger

Ingredients: lentils, bay leaves, carrot, onions, olive oil, garlic, whole grain flour, thyme, breadcrumbs, eggs, paprika, cheese of your choice, red pepper.

We don’t have to be professional chefs to eat healthy. I’ve provided the ingredients; there is no specific recipe for a great meal; you do not need to do exact measurements. Make your meal creations exciting by trying different amounts of what you enjoy and tasting as you go along. For example, if you like carrots, I can’t stop you from putting two carrots into your burger instead of one!

Cut to your preference and mix ingredients together and form like a burger patty. Prepare on the skillet or on an oiled baking pan.

Add a slice of tomato and avocado to your burger toppings if you like.

Fun fact: eating a half of an avocado in a few meals per week might contribute to better weight control.

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Enjoy!

PSA: Mental Health is Real

Picture this:

A talented, young and gifted person just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, successfully completed several marathons, has been selected to become a part of an elite fraternity, found and proposed to the woman of his dreams and is a standout employee at a Fortune 500 company.

He’s The Man, right? Well he might not think so.

This is more than a self-esteem issue. In some cases, a person could be dealing with something that needs way more attention. Mental Health issues receive a certain amount of attention; however, in some societies and cultures, the topics are swept under the rug and the mentality is “out of sight, out of mind”. That literally is not the case. People deal with so many pressing issues internally; there is no escaping your brain and thoughts.

Mental Health issues cannot be overlooked

Mental Health issues cannot be overlooked

After the untimely death of Yusuf Neville, the gentleman whose life I described in the first paragraph, the Black American population in particular has been called to more awareness and acceptance of mental health issues. Neville committed suicide and saw this as his only means of escaping pain and suffering. As many health professionals know, there are various methods to treat mental health disorders but people are either unaware, afraid of being stigmatized or encouraged that there is nothing different about them.

Yusuf Neville died at the age of 28 as a result of suicide

Yusuf Neville died at the age of 28 as a result of suicide

Stigma: “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person”

Who would want to experience stigma simply for being who they are? Not I.

Instead of feeling alone or feeling that you will be shunned by society if you are dealing with a problem associated with mental health/ substance abuse, know that you are among 26.2 percent of people (that’s 57.7 Million people) in America alone that suffer from a diagnosable, TREATABLE mental disorder in any given year. You, my friend, are definitely never alone.

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For people who are supporters of those suffering from mental health, remain a source of support. You have no idea how helpful your presence is.

Now, for those who believe that mental disorders are contagious, fictitious or significant of a contaminated soul, you are wrong. Educate yourself. Learn the facts. It is not your fault that your environment has made you this way. However, you can make a difference.

How to get help: http://www.mentalhealth.gov or http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

For supporters: m.helpguide.org

The Key is Hydration and Hydration is the Key

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Oh water, how I love you so

For you are with me everywhere I go

You make up 65-75% of my body’s muscle

While protecting my organs through life’s hustle and bustle

With water’s help, I can digest my food

While using it with exercise, it keeps me looking good

I drink it before, during and after every workout

Cold, crisp and refreshing, I just want to shout

The recommended amount per person depends

On weight, exercise type, environment and time she spends

Improving her her health and coming to the realization

That her biggest of biggest fears is dehydration

Signs of dehydration include

Thirst, chills and a change in mood

Shortness of breath, elevated heart rate and dizziness are other signs

So are headaches, nausea, and clammy skin which result in frown lines

Dehydration leads to breakdown of muscle, which will leave you weak

It also causes heat stroke, cramping, exhaustion and fatigue

So how important is water, one might inquire

No food for weeks and you’ll live, try the same with water and you’ll expire

DRINK UP!

Oh… You’re Not From Here?

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A recently published article in the newspaper of the American Public Health Association (APHA) describes findings from APHA’s last meeting/ expo. “What findings,” you ask? Let’s find out.

A study was done to determine the effect of a woman’s citizenship status on her choice to get screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.

The article, written by Donya Currie, explains that foreign-born women who have lived in the U.S. for less than five years are 69% less likely to get screened for the aforementioned cancers as compared to U.S. born citizens. Additionally, foreign-born women who have been living in the U.S. for at least five years are less likely by 24%.

These numbers are huge, regardless of which group (less than 5 years vs. at least 5 years) is analyzed. The 5 year measurement was used because that is the number of years a person must remain a permanent resident in the U.S. in order to gain citizenship.

Why is there such a gap between citizens vs. noncitizens? The article mentions lack of benefits, thus lack of insurance, as well as socioeconomic status. These are major factors that would affect a woman’s choice or ability to get screened for cancers related to the reproductive system. If women, many of which are mothers, thus having increased responsibilities, work hard to make ends meet and provide for their families, the odds are that their least concern might be placing their needs before the needs of others. It is less likely that a foreign-born non U.S. citizen can work her way up the corporate ladder as easily as her counterpart; therefore, it is less likely that her job provides the necessary medical benefits, insurance or enough money for medical costs.

Here is my take on other underlying factors that might have led to the research findings:

  • Single Family Households
  • Language Barriers
  • Education
  • When the study took place

Single Family Households

This underlying factor ties in with lack of insurance. Some insurance policies (although the number is decreasing) allow for coverage of the policy holder’s spouse. No spouse = No screening.

Language Barriers           

Foreign-born women move to the U.S. from all over the world and not all of them are fluent in English. Pamphlets or outreach programs that target non English speaking women can help to raise awareness of the importance of health screenings.

Education

Education makes a difference in not only, the immigrant’s life, but also every living human being. If we are never taught right from wrong, how will we live our lives to our full potential? Education and training is a necessity in all aspects of Public Health.

When the Study Took Place

The study was obviously conducted before November (the time of the APHA meeting). Some of you may not be aware that January 2014 marks a projected time in which hundreds of thousands to millions of Americans are expected to gain health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Changes for immigrants are also set to take place. Hopefully these changes will lower that gap between the citizens who get screened and the non-citizens who do not.

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On that note…

Happy New Year!

Vegetarian for a Day

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Due to part consciousness and part coincidence, my very first Meatless Monday was a success! For breakfast, I ate Shredded Wheats cereal with 2% milk, and I have to admit, I didn’t have much of a lunch. I was busy working and could only get my hands on a bag of popcorn. Next week, I will plan ahead.

Now this is where it gets exciting:

1) I was aware that I was participating in Meatless Monday

2) I was aware of a scheduled reunion at a vegetarian restaurant with my friends and roommates from college

3) I did not merge the two thoughts together until a few hours before the meeting, but once I did, I thought to myself that our meeting could not have fallen on a more perfect day.

My friend (remind me to thank her later) chose Vedge, an excellent restaurant in Philadelphia, PA. We arrived in the evening and looked at the menu in a somewhat puzzled state. Thank goodness for smart phones because we Googled most of the items that were listed. Honestly, we were prepared for the worst.

We each ordered a variety of appetizers, entrees and sides and every single dish was prepared impeccably. I initially assumed I would have a fantastic time with friends while enjoying somewhat insipid dishes; however this feeling passed quickly as I sampled a bit of every item and concluded that if this was what it meant to be a vegetarian, I would be completely okay with the idea.

After tasting items such as the Sweet Potato Pâté and Eggplant Braciole (I can’t pronounce it either), I was convinced that the chef must have found a way to incorporate meat into the meals somehow- they were too darn good to be so healthy.

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Dessert, my favorite part of every meal, did not disappoint at all. I enjoyed a mini cheesecake (pictured above) with carrot cake ice cream, Waldorf salad celery gel and walnuts. Yum.

At the conclusion of the meal, we all felt satisfied but not sluggish. I did not get the usual feeling of sleepiness that typically accompanies a great meal. Overall, my first Meatlesss Monday was a success.

There are a few rules from the first Meatless Monday post that I did not follow (avoid snacking, aim to cook all three meals) but this was a special circumstance. It is not every day that one dines in Center City Philadelphia and it certainly is a rare occasion to assemble the entire roommate group in one central location.  I am certain that my next post will be in contrast to this one and will include my experience with trial and error in the kitchen, so look forward to those shenanigans.

As fantastic as my experience was, I stand in the realization that not every week will be like this week and more importantly, I cannot afford restaurant priced meals with my budget. It is a fact that eating healthier tends to cost more money but I am willing to sacrifice a few dollars if that means having a better quality of life.

What do you spend money on each day, week or month that isn’t a necessity and/or could be bought at a discounted price?

I have a closet full of items that I have yet to wear and I am certain that if they went missing, I wouldn’t even notice. Moral of the story: The money that I spend on items that I don’t need could be better spent on healthier foods which essentially make up the powerhouse for my mind and body.

Meatless Mondays: Post #1

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Most of us eat meat almost everyday, maybe in more than one meal a day. We have become accustomed to this lifestyle either through our upbringing, our lack of access to alternative options, or a combination of sorts. The problem with our meat products is that over time, hormones have been injected into them, they are sometimes fed harmful substances and they are now being mass- produced as part of a larger industry.

Sometimes, we overlook how our tasty burger and fries came to be. I, for one, was not always conscious of what exactly went into my delicious “chicken” nuggets. In this age of chronic disease and illness, we are called to be more aware of what goes into our bodies. A few changes now could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care while adding on quality years to your life.

It is difficult to decrease the intake of meat all at once, so let’s try to start with one day a week. Over time, you might want to increase this number.

Tomorrow will be my first Meatless Monday of which I am aware. Instead of thinking of this experience as being deprived of something, I try thinking about it instead as a reward of good health.

Here are some options for meals:

Breakfast:

-one bowl of oatmeal with your favorite fresh fruits

-one slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter (use olive oil if allergic to PB)

-plain yogurt with honey

*Remember, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Even if you are not a morning person, it is important to eat this meal. Make sure your breakfast is the biggest meal throughout your day also– it jumpstarts your metabolism and sets your body to focus and burn calories as you exercise throughout the day.

Lunch:

-boiled quinoa or brown rice as an alternative, seasoned lightly and mixed with black beans, corn, tomato, celery and cilantro

*Hydration is important throughout the day. Make sure you are drinking lots of water with each meal and in between meals as well.

*Make sure your meals sustain you until the next meal; avoid snacking. If you must snack, snack on fruits and veggies with high water content.

Dinner:

  • baked sweet potato with a side of steamed carrots and broccoli

-one serving of your favorite baked fish

  • Plan your meals for Meatless Mondays ahead of time. This way, you will know exactly what you are eating and will less likely be distracted by other options. Not eating meat does not automatically mean eating salad and tofu. There are many types of foods that are just as appetizing and nutritious as meals that have meat in them. As time goes on, you will get more creative with your meal options.

*Challenge yourself to prepare all three meals on Meatless Monday. Cooking is therapeutic and you’ll know exactly what you’re eating.

Happy Eating!

I Survived Finals Week

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I apologize for my lack of posts lately. The end of this academic year was extremely busy; nevertheless, Finals Week has come and gone and I am happy to be able to focus more attention to this site!

Last week, I received an MPH degree, so I look forward to working in a field that aims to better the health beliefs and practices of people all around the world. Secondly, I have finished my applications for Public Health programs in hopes of one day becoming a Doctor of Public Health.

If any of you are interested in the field, have questions or want general advice on Graduate School, please do not hesitate to write in the comments section or tweet @healthisbeauty_

Thanks!