Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

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SIX QUESTIONS:

Nursing professor: Vegas’ bad health ranking can be fixed

She calls it a matter of “political will” and reinvention

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Tiffany Brown

UNLV nursing professor Nancy Menzel, standing in a teaching lab, says Las Vegas is young enough to shape a healthy environment for residents. Her goals include improved employer health programs, a prohibition on new apartment buildings and schools near highways, and an informed public.

Nancy Menzel refuses to accept as final Las Vegas’ ranking as one of the nation’s least healthy cities.

In her 2007 study Menzel, a professor of nursing at UNLV and president of the Nevada Public Health Association, reported that Las Vegas must reinvent itself as a “healthy place that supports healthy people” if it is going to be sustained.

Is it countercultural to emphasize healthy living in Las Vegas?

The city markets to visitors things like cigar parties, nudity, drinking, overeating and other things that are considered unhealthy. But to sustain that industry they have to have healthy workers who will sell these products.

How does our mind-set need to change?

Employers and civic leaders have to view employees as human resources who need to be taken care of. When the economy kicks back in, workers won’t be attracted here if there are problems with air pollution and access to health care.

What are some ways that urban development affects health?

Several studies show the adverse respiratory health effects of living or going to school near a highway. When children are ill, they consume many resources, not only health care but also time off from work for their caregivers. Children fall behind in school due to absences, then struggle to graduate, adding to our abysmal high school dropout rate. Clark County zoning should prohibit building apartment buildings and schools near highways.

What are barriers to better community health?

It’s political will. People don’t understand the health consequences to themselves, so they don’t agitate their state or federal legislators for support. For a city to be sustained you need good jobs and people to fill them who don’t cost their employer a bundle in lost production and health care costs.

Can Las Vegas be reformed?

Yes, because it’s a postmodern city. We still have relatively pristine ground and water. It’s not too late. We can be visionary because we’re not saddled with a lot of old industries.

What can we do?

Communicate with politicians about issues that matter to health. Push for sustainable energy instead of polluting energy that threatens lives. Drive a smaller car, drive fewer miles, carpool. We need to get the people who are regulating us to insert the concept of health into every action they take.

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