Many of us are working on goals for a healthier new year, whether it’s dropping a few pounds after overindulging in December or creating long-term plans to help improve ourselves physically and mentally. For suggestions on how we can all get back on track for 2015, I interviewed Bill Snook of the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department.
1. How long have you been with the Kansas City Health Department, and what is your current position?
I am the health and social marketing program manager and have been at the department for 15 years. My master’s degree is in exercise physiology.
2. What does your typical day look like?
A typical day in my position is to expect the unexpected. On any given day, our team may need to react immediately to media requests, work with program managers on ways to raise public awareness of health issues and resources available, or engage in creating new tools for the public to use, or work on strategies to keep residents safe from the effects of extreme heat in the summer. There are no two days alike in my job.
3. What is the biggest health issue threatening the Kansas City LGBTQ community? Is it still HIV/AIDS?
HIV is still an issue, but to be honest, I believe the biggest health issue facing our community is that we are not visible. Research is sporadic and disjointed, focusing on a few topics such as HIV or tobacco use. There was a time that medical journals would not publish your work if you used the words gay or lesbian. Most medical intake forms at your doctor do not even ask if you are LGBTQ. Medical providers sometimes don’t understand or realize that as LGBTQ, we may need different tests, questions and services. With all the gains we have seen socially, there is still a long way to go.
4. How does the Kansas City Health Department work to educate LGBTQ people about current health risks?
Starting with the Pulse in 2003 and 2006, which was one of the first comprehensive LGBT community health assessments ever done, we have continued to work with local, state and national organizations to promote the need for more research, funding and culturally and community competent care.
5. What do you find the most challenging in your work?
I would probably say … the challenge to ask better questions, find workable solutions to achieve better health outcomes.
6. What do you enjoy the most about working with the K.C. Health Department?
The department has allowed me to explore, innovate and continue to learn. When we did the LGBT community survey, it had only been done one time before. The community took a traditional survey format and turned it on its head. The marketing committee was brilliant and committed. Because of everyone who filled out a survey or promoted it, we had data that allowed organizations to use it to get funding for more research or services! The University of Missouri – Columbia was able to get a lot more funding to do more surveys from the Missouri Foundation for Health because of the Pulse. Nationally, the most complete data on LGBTQ health is found in Missouri. I have been thankful that my job allows me to be a part of that.
7. The holiday season can be extremely stressful for LGBTQ people, especially when interacting with family. Do you have any suggestions on how to maintain emotional health during this time of year?
Maintaining emotional health is needed year-round, not just at the holidays. My best advice is to know what triggers your stress and make a plan. Deep breaths, stepping away from the situation, exercise, yoga, meditation can all help, but don’t be afraid of asking for help. The LGBT Affirming Therapist Guild can be a valuable resource to help combat stress and other issues.
8. On Jan 1, many of us are all set to make life changes, whether it’s going to the gym, quitting smoking, or making healthier eating choices. Most of us have dropped these goals by Jan. 30. How might a person stick with these changes?
It doesn’t have to be a New Year’s resolution. It is about taking a positive step toward your goal. Just remember that change requires effort. I usually ask, “what small changes can I make that would help me move toward my goal?” You have to build a habit. For example, if you want to work out, find out what you like to do, such as lift weights or do cardio, and commit to doing it twice a week for 30 minutes on certain days. If you do well, then add time or another day. If you have a setback, it is OK. Just scale back and try again.
9. Many in our community still smoke. Is the e-cigarette a healthful solution to begin the move from smoker to non-smoker?
LGBTQ [people> have one of the highest smoking rates. It is usually around 35 percent to 38 percent in the LGBTQ community, compared to about 18 percent in the national data. E-cigs are not classified by the Food and Drug Association as a stop-smoking aid. E-cig products are not regulated, and the health risks and benefits have not been fully studied. If you want to quit smoking, there are programs to help you quit and products to help minimize the withdrawal symptoms. Ask your doctor, or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to help you quit.
10. Do you have any goals set for yourself for the new year?
Whether it is work and home, or listening to my body if I push too hard at the gym, my goal is about finding a balance, relaxing, and enjoying life.

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Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash

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