65% of Durham adults and 20% of Durham children suffer from obesity or a diet-related chronic illness like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Consuming excess sugar is associated with theses diseases. Statistics show that sugary beverages are more heavily marketed to people in African-American and Latinx communities, making this demographic more vulnerable to increased consumption of sugar. In Fall 2018, students from Health, Culture, and the Latinx Community (SPANISH 306), a course that examines health disparities in the Latinx community, worked with the Durham County Public Health Department to gather data for SugarSmart Durham, a campaign that aims to decrease the consumption of sugary drinks. “The goal is to identify cultural barriers to healthier options and to identify the motivator that is priming someone to ask for a sugary beverage,” says Denver Jameson, an epidemiologist at the Durham County Public Health Department. “Once we have that information, then we can start thinking about how we can shift culture,” she adds.
One of the key ways students gathered this data was by learning how to facilitate story circles. A story circle convenes a small group of individuals into a circle to share their experiences and memories regarding a specific topic, in this case sugary beverages. Each person has around 3 minutes to talk, and everyone participates, including the facilitator. “It’s a great way to learn and understand,” says Duke student Alex Bajana (T’21) , a Computer Science/Biology major. “No graph or chart can tell you what an actual person can tell you through a story.”
“Listening is the core of what we want to do with this campaign,” says Jameson. “We're trying to get away from the idea that as public institutions or organizations, we have answers for people that will make their lives better, and come more from a place of understanding. And in order to do that, we think that you have to ask questions and ask questions to listen,” she adds.
“It’s really laudable for the public health department to listen to the communities here in Durham and build their campaign based on that knowledge,” says Professor Joan Clifford, who taught Health, Culture, and the Latinx Community (SPANISH 306) in Fall 2018 / Spring 2019, and will teach the course again in Fall 2019.