Richard Nares – Founder of The Emilio Nares Foundation


Dr. Michael Omidi spotlights Richard Nares, the founder of The Emilio Nares Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing free transport for childhood cancer victims in Southern California.

While a diagnosis of cancer is devastating for anyone, childhood cancer might be the most heartbreaking of all.  For parents of children who have received this distressful news, the implications and obligations might be more than what they can reasonably bear in their emotionally bereft state.  Moreover, cancer is no respecter of financial situations; families who were already struggling financially might be pushed into poverty by the incredible economic strain.  Fortunately for many stricken Southern California families, Richard Nares and the Emilio Nares Foundation can help children diagnosed with cancer by taking them to their treatment centers.[1]

The Emilio Nares Foundation began as a resource for families of children with cancer who weren’t able to afford transportation to hospitals.  Many parents – single parents in particular – find themselves unable to juggle work obligations with the needs of their sick children, so they have to essentially leave their jobs.  Furthermore, parents who rely upon public transportation might not be able to take their kids on busses or trains due to possible spread of infection.  Mr. Nares’ foundation offers scheduled rides from children’s homes to different treatment centers in Southern California.

Mr. Nares knows firsthand the heartbreak of having a child with cancer.  In 1998, his own son Emilio (for whom the foundation was named) was diagnosed with leukemia.  The Nares family had a large network of family and friends who were able to offer help and transportation, as well as understanding employers who allowed flexible working hours.  Nevertheless, after a valiant two-year fight, Emilio died, leaving his family seeking to fill a very large void in their lives.  As a way of honoring his son, Mr. Nares asked Emilio’s treatment facility, Rady Children’s Hospital, how he could help.  Transportation was what was needed, the administrators told him.

Mr. Nares’ situation wasn’t the norm; many families do not have the kind of support system that the Nares family had.  Many parents do not have the kind of jobs that allow paid family leave.  Others cannot speak English, and struggle to understand the specific treatment instructions.  The Emilio Nares Foundation not only provides transportation, but also offers translation services as well as consultations on insurance and legal issues, and bereavement counselling.

Since 2000, the Emilio Nares Foundation has offered tens of thousands of rides to treatment facilities, helping to ease some of the tremendous burden from the families.  The foundation has grown in order to begin to meet the needs of the population, and now has a small network of drivers making the rounds.  The foundation offers transportation to approximately 40 families per week.

At Civic Duty, we are constantly impressed by the efforts of regular people to help their fellow citizens, and Richard Nares is a wonderful example of how an extraordinary person can turn a tragedy into a valuable community service.  We applaud Mr. Nares’ work, and we hope that the Emilio Nares Foundation can continue its great work for as long as we have to endure the ravages of childhood cancer.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Torgan, Allie: Grieving dad helps kids get to chemo 11/13/2013

Animal Rights for Particular “Human” Smart Species of Animals


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the issue of “Nonhuman Legal Personhood” for certain species of animals.

In spite of our personal philosophies regarding the rights of animals, animal cruelty is an issue that affects us all.  Even those of us who don’t care a whit about animal suffering have to admit that animal cruelty can negatively impact our lives.  If livestock animals are treated improperly, the population is in danger of being fed dangerous food products; pets that are abused and/or neglected can pose a threat to their surrounding neighborhoods.

Clearly, there must be regulations that govern our treatment of animals for the sake of the animals themselves and society as a whole, but what is the best method of ensuring healthy treatment of animals, both in the wild and in the human population: Animal welfare laws or legal nonhuman personhood? [1] What is the difference, anyway?

Laws regarding animal welfare vary from state to state, although there is the Animal Welfare Act, which deals with the care and treatment of animals that are used for research, commerce and exhibition.  State laws dictate the treatment of animals on a more specific level, and deal with the human effect on animals rather than promise individual rights and privileges to said animals.

As methods of sale and care of animals evolve, so must the various laws address new concerns and potential cruelties.  However, unfortunately, many of these laws lack the strength to be real deterrents, and many animal rights proponents are lobbying for more substantial protective measures for animal victims of unnecessary abuses.

There are some in the animal welfare advocacy community who suggest the extension of “personhood” rights to animals is not only a just solution to animal abuses, but is also legally sound.  Limited legal nonhuman personhood would, in effect, grant certain animals (great apes, whales, dolphins and domestic companion animals) certain legal rights, namely the right to live, not be used for testing or research or exploited for purposes of entertainment.  The animals that would acquire nonhuman personhood status would be the animals that have been deemed as being highly intelligent (by human standards, of course).  However, personhood legal rights imply that those upon whom these rights have been granted are capable of recognizing or even understanding them, which animals are not.  Moreover, livestock animals would be exempt from personhood rights, since they are a necessary for food and labor, even though pigs (it has been argued) are highly intelligent.

Ultimately, the legal nonhuman personhood argument is a strategy for strengthening animal welfare laws, but in the most convoluted way imaginable.  Obviously, animals wouldn’t be able to recognize if their personhood rights have been violated, nor would they be able to take legal measures to address the problem if they had.  Humans, whether using personhood rights statutes or animal welfare policies, would have to confront violators of animal health and safety on behalf of the animals.

The only real benefit to personhood rights would be the increased punishment of violators, and that is something that could be achieved via stronger animal welfare laws.  Would our attitudes towards animal cruelty change significantly if legal ramifications were couched in different terminology?  The real pressing issue is the respect for the health and safety of animals, something that we need to address without wasting time and resources getting into protracted linguistic and legal debates.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Gonchar, Michael: Should Certain Animals Have Some of the Same Legal Rights As People? New York Times 4/29/2014

Civic Duty Spotlight: Vednita Carter Founder of Breaking Free


Dr. Michael Omidi spotlights Vednita Carter, founder of the organization Breaking Free, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and girls escape a life of prostitution. 

While we may think of many things when we think of Minnesota – blistering cold, picturesque lakes and the Minnesota Vikings, to name but a few – we don’t tend to regard it as a hub of sex trafficking.

However, Minnesota is on the FBI list of 13 largest child sex trafficking centers in the nation.  While the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14 years, it is not uncommon for these girls to be treated as criminals, even though the federal age of consent is 18 years, and the individual states’ age of consent is generally not younger than 16 years (with variations given depending upon circumstances).

Vednita Carter, founder of the nonprofit organization Breaking Free and a former prostitute herself, is working tirelessly to help these young girls escape a life that all but guarantees danger and despair.[1]

When Ms. Carter was 18 years old, she was shuttled into a life of prostitution through economic deprivation and the influence of an ex-boyfriend.  For more than a year she was mired in a highly exploitative and dangerous life, but through the help of a friend she was able to extricate herself, and eventually begin Breaking Free in 1996.

Before Breaking Free, Minnesota had WHISPER (Women Hurt in Systems of Prostitution Engaged in Revolt), which dismantled shortly before the foundation of Breaking Free.  Because Ms. Carter worked closely with WHISPER as its director of human services, she was able to fill the void left by WHISPER’s demise and continue its necessary work.

Breaking Free is one of the few organizations dedicated to giving women a way out of prostitution through direct intervention, job training, counselling and even transitional housing.  Moreover, Breaking Free will intervene on behalf of victims of sex trafficking in order to prevent criminal charges from being brought against them.

Not only do Ms. Carter and Breaking Free aid women and girls who want to escape prostitution, Ms. Carter also sponsors seminars and lectures geared towards men who seek the services of prostitutes in order to decrease the demand.  The courses outline the realities of prostitution, and let the men know, in unvarnished terms, their role in perpetuating the phenomenon.  According to data from the Offenders Prostitution Program, or “The John School,” as it is commonly called, the recidivism rate amongst men who attend the classes is only 2 percent.

We at Civic Duty are inspired by the dedication of Ms. Carter and her landmark organization.  If we are going to put an end to sex trafficking we have to confront it head on, and stop believing that is isn’t a problem that affects everyone, regardless of socio-economic status.  Breaking Free is doing fantastic work, and we hope that it will continue to offer a resource to these victims for as long as it is necessary.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Toner, Kathleen: Helping Women Escape ‘The Life’ 3/14/2014

Prescribed Antidepressant Culture in Our Nation’s Youth


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the trend and the downside of giving young people antidepressants before they’ve had a chance to live fully realized, adult lives.

Depression is a difficult emotional disorder to manage, mainly due to the degrees in which it can strike.  Unlike psychosis, schizophrenia or post traumatic stress disorder, depression can be successfully treated either with or without drug therapy, but the signs of recurrence can be very subtle, and stem either from natural life changes and stresses or from chemical triggers.

Since many of us are now living in what can be described as an economically unstable environment, how can those of use who suffer from clinical depression but who are also trying to wean ourselves off of drug therapy tell the difference between a potentially dangerous episode and the natural reaction to difficult life circumstances?[1]

Because it is commonplace for young adults, teenagers and even children to be prescribed anti depressant drugs, many patients have never developed their full emotional maturity without being affected by drug therapy.  Although medications have certainly helped many young people negotiate their illnesses in healthy ways, no one wants to be dependent upon mood-altering drugs for the duration of their lives – we want to be happy, healthy and highly functioning naturally, if possible.

When patients want to begin to manage their depression without the aid of prescription medications, they find it difficult to enter into a relatively stable period of life first.  It is this overall stability that provides a solid foundation for deciphering normal from abnormal emotional reactions. But if they’ve never had an adult emotional response without being under the influence of medications, how do they know what is normal and what isn’t?  Moreover, since the stress of being economically unstable is, for many post-college graduates, ever-present, when will they ever enjoy a measure of security?

Our culture has increasingly embraced pharmaceutical solutions to relatively common emotional problems.  Although clinical depression is very real and very dangerous, it is also true that many young people who are depressed are actively accelerating their depression through the over consumption of alcohol and the use of recreational drugs.  It is also very possible that these young people are addressing their emotional frailties through the administration of easily accessible mood-enhancing substances, but what if their depression was in some way triggered by these habits?  If these factors are persistently ignored, the likelihood of stability through medication is slim.

Once again, it does not serve anyone to arbitrarily abandon their anti-depressants; anyone who does could be sacrificing their ability to function in a healthy and productive manner.  However, we need to begin to rethink our therapeutic prerogatives a bit when we abjure counselling in favor of drug therapy.  We cannot cure what we do not know exists, and we cannot expect people to cope in a healthy way in the face of major personal difficulties.

Even the most emotionally healthy among us experience sadness, anger and mood fluctuations, and when external difficulties present themselves, it is perfectly normal to feel distress.  We must learn to help our young people to manage normal and moderate degrees of emotional discomfort through therapy before turning to medications if we are going to avoid a nation of people eternally in thrall to the pharmaceutical industry.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Iarovici, Doris: The Antidepressant Generation New York Times 4/17/2014

Copenhagen Zoo Euthanize More Healthy Animals


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the latest series of healthy animals that were euthanized by the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark.

Even though the Copenhagen Zoo certainly didn’t need any more bad publicity, it has nonetheless decided to euthanize a family of lions in order to incorporate a new male lion into the population without fear of compromising genetic purity.  The Zoo received a major backlash in February for euthanizing a healthy giraffe known as Marius.[1]

The healthy giraffe, informally called Marius, was a popular attraction at the Copenhagen Zoo.  The zoo officials decided to euthanize Marius when it received word that it would be introducing a new giraffe into the population for breeding purposes, and that there would be no room for Marius as a result.

Rather than allow one of the many other interested zoos that did have room to have Marius transferred over to them, the Copenhagen Zoo decided to euthanize Marius, butcher him in front of a crowd, and feed him to the lions.  Zoo officials argued that doing so was for the educational benefit of the observers, many of them students from various local schools.

Ironically, the lions that fed upon Marius are the same lions that were euthanized.  The lions were a 14 year old female, a 16 year old male and their two cubs.  According to representatives from the zoo, the cubs were in danger of being preyed upon by the new lion, and the new dynamic would have caused the older male lion to view his own offspring as suitable mates, thereby creating inbred offspring.

European zoo protocol is very different from practices embraced in the United States. In Europe, zoo animals are not sterilized; the animals are simply put down rather than risk the possibility of inbred offspring.  Zoologists argue that euthanasia, rather than contraception, is the more efficient means of preserving genetically desirable animals, and that sentimentality rather than science could result in an abundance of inbred zoo animals.

It is very interesting that science and nature are the first arguments that zoo officials turn to when it comes to making decisions about zoo animals’ genetic desirability.  None of the zoo animals are fit to be returned to the wild; every one of them will spend the remainder of their lives either on display for a paying public or at a protected animal sanctuary where their environment is wholly controlled.

If the idea is that these animals are to be kept as nature intended, then it is supremely ironic that it makes absolutely no difference in terms of the global wild animal population.  Furthermore, how does systematically butchering a giraffe and feeding it directly to a population of captive lions educate anyone on wild animal behavior?

All in all, the argument about the scientific rationality in euthanizing healthy animals in order to protect the gene pool is what magicians call a plausible diversion: The part of the trick that keeps the audiences’ eyes away from where the switch is being pulled.  The zoos’ main concern is revenue; they want a robust population of captive animals, they want them to behave as closely as they would in the wild in order to keep patrons happy and they don’t want the expense of dealing with animals that are inconvenient.  If we aren’t comfortable with the reality of zoos’ operations, then maybe we shouldn’t fund their practices by visiting them.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Bilefsky, Dan: Danish Zoo, Reviled in the Death of a Giraffe, Kills 4 Lions 3/26/2014 New York Times

Obese Father’s May Be Linked to a Child’s Risk for Autism Disorders

FatDad and Son

Dr. Michael Omidi discusses a new study about how paternal obesity was strongly associated with an increased risk for autism disorders in children.

In the May issue of Pediatrics, Pal Suren, MD, MPH, and his colleagues of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo wrote that children of obese fathers had an increased risk for developing autistic disorder and Asperger disorder, and the risk grew with increasing body mass index (BMI). [1]

The risk of autistic disorder was 0.27% in children with obese fathers compared to 0.14% in children whose fathers were not overweight or obese.

For the risk of Asperger disorder, 0.38% for the children with obese fathers and 0.18% in children with normal-weight fathers.

These results differ from a 2012 study that found mothers who were obese before pregnancy had a 67% increase in having children with autism spectrum disorders. [2]

“We had thought that maternal obesity may somehow be related to autism, but this is the first time anyone has looked at paternal weight, and the findings suggest we may have gotten it wrong,” commented Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in Lake Success, N.Y.

Adesman, who was not involved in the study, pointed out that it is not clear from either of the studies if obesity plays a role in autism. Even if future studies did show cause, the impact of parental obesity on autism spectrum disorders is likely to be small.

“Most of the children with autism in this study were not born to obese fathers and most of the children born to obese fathers did not develop autism,” said Adesman. “The risk increased (for autistic disorder) from 15 per 10,000 cases (children with normal weight fathers) to 25 in 10,000 (children with obese dads), which is still very, very low.”

The study used a population study that included a sample of close to 93,000 children (mean age being 7.4) in Norway derived from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.  At the end of the follow-up in December 2012, autism spectrum disorders had been diagnosed in 419 of the children, which specifically was 162 cases of autistic disorder, 103 or Asperger disorder, and 154 of pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.

Among those cases, 43% had been clinically assessed through the Autism Birth Cohort Study while 57% had autism spectrum disorder diagnose confirmed by a specialist.

The results are not definitive, and even the researchers wrote “The potential effects should be further investigated through attempts at replication of our analysis, and, if these are positive, through genetic and epigenetic studies. It should also be explored whether paternal overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of other neurodevelopmental disorders in children.”

By Michael Omidi



[1] Stenberg N, Identifying children with autism spectrum disorder at 18 months in a general population sample.

[2] Paula Krakowiak, Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

North American Ducks Dying All Along the Great Lakes


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the phenomenon killing North American ducks all along the Great Lakes, as well as the efforts to save the survivors.

This past fall and winter have been very hard on many species of North American wild animals; moose have been dying in record numbers, and now, ducks.

North American ducks have been dying by the thousands, at a rate unmatched in recent history.  Biologists from the state Department of Environmental Conservation have tallied duck carcasses littering the shores all along the Niagara River corridor since the beginning of this winter, which has been especially perishing.[1]

The unusually blistering cold has caused the lakes to freeze over completely, rendering the only food source for these ducks inaccessible.  The bodies of the birds are largely completely starved, with only a thin layer of skin stretched over their bones and nothing but parasites in their digestive tracts.

Others have been forced to eat Zebra mussels, which carry fatal toxins.  The weakened state of the ducks has compromised their ability to look for sustenance elsewhere, and many of the birds were found further south, having expired from the effort of migrating.

The alarming rate at which these ducks are succumbing to starvation has caused environmental offices to take drastic action.  Rather than watch the duck population diminish, representatives from the Erie chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have decided to intervene by capturing the surviving population and feeding them.

At this time of year, hundreds of thousands of red-breasted mergansers migrate south from Alaska to the Great Lakes.  This particular breed of ducks cannot eat the typical scraps that are left over from, or given to them by, humans; they can only digest fish.  A red-breasted merganser must eat approximately 250 live minnows per day.  Thus far, the SPCA has tried to rescue more than 150 starving ducks from starvation.

These ducks, which were found by regular citizens wandering in public lots or in yards, are being tube-fed, until they are strong enough to eat live fish.  These species of ducks are almost entirely water bound for their natural lives, and don’t really spend much time on solid land at all.  However, many of the birds have been so depleted of strength and fat, and are so weighted down by mud and road salt, that they cannot even float.

After several weeks of rehabilitation, the birds will be released back into the wild.

The Erie county SPCA has served its community since 1867, and after the ASPCA (an independent entity and not related to the Erie county SPCA), is the oldest humane society in the United States.  The facilities manage over 14,000 animals per year.

The SPCA has done remarkable work for these ducks, and hopefully those that have benefitted from the care will be able to help restore the North American duck population after this unfortunate weather aberration.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Esch, Mary: Fish-eating ducks hard hit by severe winter, ice Associated Press 3/15/2014

Do Brain Teaser Puzzles Really Strengthen Cognitive Ability?


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the science behind the belief that brain teaser puzzles strengthen cognitive ability.

There is a burgeoning industry dedicated to strengthening memory, improving response skills and staving off dementia via a series of electronic games that can be downloaded onto computers, tablets and smartphones.  However, there is scant evidence that these puzzles and exercises are capable of enhancing memory beyond the scope of what is necessary to complete the games efficiently – you will eventually become skilled in completing the puzzles, but not exceptionally so in other unrelated tasks.

These companies are trading on what is inconclusive evidence that digital brain puzzles can promote mental acuity.  The marketing has been so successful that Medcaid and Medicare have received proposals for reimbursements for what have been called “memory fitness activities.”  Unfortunately for those who wish to claim their subscription to Luminosity as a part of their medical costs, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health concluded that the claims of comprehensive cognitive improvement were tenuous at best.

The study followed more than 2,300 subjects, whose average age was 74, as they engaged in brain training activities that were specifically designed for either memory, reasoning, or speed of processing.  The sessions lasted between 60 and 75 minutes, and were conducted over a period of six weeks.  The participants were then tested for the next 10 years for any lasting results of the exercises.  It was found that while there was no improvement in memory, the participants who were given the reasoning and speed of processing exercises demonstrated some improvement, but only in the specific exercises they were given. [1]

However, there has been another study that drew more reassuring conclusions.  Research performed by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco found that there was improvement in reaction skills by subjects who were given a simulated driving task to master.  The participants showed improvement in short term memory and performance in tasks that weren’t necessarily related to the game they played.

If brain functionality is the main objective, physical exercise might be the way to go.  Several studies have found that people who exercise regularly have enhanced cognition, and are even able to stave off the effects of dementia in its early stages.  Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine found that people who engage in 30 minutes of exercise at least three days per week have superior cognitive skills, in addition to heightened creative thinking.  Creative, or divergent, thinking is the ability to imagine multiple solutions to any one problem, or multiple uses for any one object.[2]

While it might not be necessary to abandon crossword puzzles or Sudoku if your goal is to sharpen your mental tools, it is certainly a good idea to begin an exercise routine, since it appears that the increased flow of oxygen to the brain from rigorous cardiovascular activity could help boost brain performance.  So, in order to maximize both mental and physical health, get out and get moving!

By Michael Omidi

[1] Pope, Tara Parker: Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn’t Sure New York Times 3/10/2014

[2] Cohen, Howard: Regular exercise improves brain health and stimulates creativity Miami Herald 1/24/14



Wild Animals Are Not House Hold Pets


In the following article, Dr. Michael Omidi discusses keeping wild animals as pets, and the recent case in Illinois of a man bringing a tiger into a public bar.

Keeping wildlife as pets is, quite simply, a horrible idea and an abominable practice.  Capturing an animal from the wild, restraining it, caging it, shipping it to a foreign climate and environment and keeping it caged for the amusement of its purchasers is thoroughly despicable morally, as well as a threat to human health and safety.

Even wild animals that were born in captivity aren’t fit as pets; although they have absolutely no experience of the wild, they are nonetheless wild animals, and are therefore subject to hardwired genetic instincts and predispositions.

A man in Lockport, IL was recently charged with animal cruelty after bringing a tiger into a bar, only restrained by a leash.  The man, John Basile, is the owner of Big Run Wolf Ranch, a federally licensed educational facility and sanctuary.  Whatever his credentials as a wildlife educator may be, taking a tiger into a bar and exposing it to patrons is nothing short of foolhardy.

In December, according to the lawsuit, he brought the tiger to a Christmas party where it bit the arm of a party goer.  The bite wasn’t severe enough to drive the victim to filing charges at the time (a tiger biting with purpose will take off a human arm easily), but the incident illustrates how little control Mr. Basile had over the animal, as well as a complete lack of judgment, since he elected to bring the animal back to a public area two months later.[1]

There is no federal law overseeing pet wildlife – the regulations that exist vary from state to state.  Because the laws vary and it is difficult for officials to oversee wild animal keepers (particularly unscrupulous ones), not even the United States Department of Agriculture – the federal regulating body for the Animal Welfare Act – has accurate data for how many exotic animals are kept in captivity. [2]

As attached as these misguided wild pet owners may be to their animals, the fact remains that no amount of affection will predict a wild animal’s behavior.  Owners can coexist with their wild pets for years before the pets turn aggressive and violent.  One woman kept a chimpanzee for 20 years before it attacked her closest friend.  Another woman was attacked and killed by a 350 lb black bear she kept in a cage.

There is no reason to keep a wild animal as a personal pet.  Doing so threatens the safety of the animal and the community, should the wild animal ever escape.  Hopefully, there will soon be strict national regulations regarding the possession and sale of wild animals as pets, because regardless of how tempting it may be to have a tiger prowling around the home, there is no valid reason to keep a wild animal anywhere but the wild.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Hosey, Joseph: Taking Tiger Into Bar a Bad Idea, Says Animal Welfare Group 2/28/2014 Joliet Patch

[2] Kendall, Jodi: Wild at Home: Exotic Animals as Pets National Geographic Animal Intervention

Living Conditions & Nutritional Food Are Key Factors to Better Health


Dr. Michael Omidi discusses how living conditions and proper food can help low-income families preserve their physical health.

According to a report issued by the University of Maryland, the vast majority of funds for medical assistance in the United States goes to physician and hospital care, rather than preventative care.  Preventative care would be classified as programs designed to keep the population healthy – physical education initiatives, drug prevention, healthy food drives and quality of life improvements.  In an effort to keep their populations healthy, several organizations are working to keep the community properly fed and housed; two conditions that can ensure either health or illness.[1]

The Affordable Care Act allows hospitals to pursue the implementation of programs that address food related illnesses – malnutrition and/or obesity.  A study performed by the University of California at San Francisco found that hospital admissions for hypoglycemia and congestive heart failure was directly related to assistance payments running low before the end of the month.

Because food related medical conditions affect the influx of patients in community clinics and hospitals, many medical centers are assisting patients with their applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which is more commonly known as food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs.  Moreover, other hospitals including Massachusetts General, are evaluating incoming patients for food insecurity, and opening food pantries.

Older patients are especially sensitive to illnesses related to food deprivation.  New Milford Hospital in Connecticut began a “Senior Supper” program to help keep older members of the community fed, so as not to aggravate existing medical conditions.  New Milford also has a “Chef Advocates” program for local youths that addresses nutrition and diabetes.  Both programs stress the importance of fresh foods, portion control and eating locally.

In Washington D.C., in order to address the issue of low income families living in unfurnished homes, a nonprofit organization named A Wider Circle has provided a resource for furniture, beds and other amenities that help to make a home a home.  Living in a dwelling with bare floors and possessions stored in shopping bags does not promote emotional or economic stability.

Sleeping on a mat for weeks at a time with no comforts; having no place to sit and eat meals and nowhere for children to do their homework or play can be demoralizing, and contributes to the cycle of poverty.  Because poverty can accelerate depression, which in turn can aggravate as well as trigger physical health issues, including insomnia, heart disease, and diabetes. [2]

In addition to donating free furniture, A Wider Circle assists with developing life and job skills and nutritional guidance.  To date, A Wider Circle has helped more than 120,000 furnish their homes and improve their lives overall.

Living well and eating well are two powerful tools for maintaining physical health, and if our communities and local governments provide plentiful and easily accessible resources for assistance, society will be rewarded with lower medical care costs and a fitter, stronger population.

By Michael Omidi

[1] Gearon, Christopher J: Treating Hunger As a Health Issue US News and World Report 2/13/2014

[2] Klairmont, Laura: Tackling Poverty in Nation’s Capitol, One Bed at a Time CNN 2/28/2014