Below is his acceptance speech and a link to the UCSF article about the award:
"Thank you Assembly member Bonta, and thanks to Dr. Steve Schroeder, a public health champion and Dr. Xavier Morales, fearless leader of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, who nominated me. And my parents, Zahava and George, immigrants from Chie and Hungary, who travelled here to celebrate, but also to figure out the answer to their longstanding question: “What does our son the so-called doctor actually do for a living? And exactly why isn’t he in private practice?”
Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire, recognized that literacy’s power lies not in the ability to read and write, but rather in an individual’s capacity to shape the course of his/her own life. After 25 years as a practicing doctor, I have learned how low health literacy can maim and kill. So I’ve learned my most important role is that of a literacy teacher and advocate.
A case in point: My patient, Juan F, recently passed away from low health literacy. At 51, he acquired diabetes because he believed that if drinking soda were bad for you “the government would have put warning labels on them.” Health literacy problem #1.
To treat his diabetes, I started him on a drug to protect his kidneys. But he suffered a dangerous side effect: high potassium in the blood that could lead to fatal heart rhythms. I informed him that he NEVER EVER should take that medication again. But Juan. recently died at my hospital of a heart arrhythmia brought on by high potassium after having being prescribed this same medication at an outside hospital. He failed to connect the dots and alert the doctors of his allergy. Health literacy problem #2.
His family invited me to his wake, a festive celebration. As I stepped down from the stage on which his embalmed corpse lay, I noticed at the side table dozens of 2 liter Coke bottles, around which his grandchildren hovered and circulated, poured and drank, laughed and smiled, unaware of the connections between the fizz, the sweet taste, their smiles today, and the suffering and death that follow tomorrow. Health literacy problem #3.
Now you can understand why I advocate for better health literacy. Let me start with organizational health literacy. Part of my work is to support healthcare organizations to make it easier for all patients to understand and act on medical instructions – to gain agency with respect to their health.
My work also involves improving public health literacy to reduce Type 2 diabetes. In California, there are 3 million adults with diabetes, and 9 million with pre-diabetes, destined to acquire it within a decade. 1 in 4 teens has pre-diabetes. This epidemic requires us to see the bigger picture -- the social and environmental conditions that are its main drivers. Our social policies are hurting us, and we don’t know it or we won’t act on it. I’m speaking about economic, regulatory, commercial, workplace, agricultural, land use and educational policies.
We partnered with Youth Speaks to prevent Type 2 diabetes in young people. Why? Children do not control the world around them, and are victimized like second hand smoke victimized us in the past. And youth are powerful voices for change. The Bigger Picture Campaign (www.thebiggerpicture.org) features young minority voices preventing diabetes by speaking the truth in very compelling ways. This gives me real hope.
Thank you to the Irvine Foundation for supporting The Bigger Picture and motivating us all to work with the beautiful young people of California to end Type 2 diabetes."
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