‘Tre Talk’ to discuss defeating diabetes, other chronic conditions
Deloyd Parker, Dr. Munish Chawla, Dr. Kimberly Adams, Terry Garner, Dola Young, Dr. Bandana Chawla and Sherra Aguirre. Photo by Aswad Walker.

On Thursday, Oct. 20 a collaborative of Houston-area organizations will be hosting a “Tre Talk” dinner and discussion on diabetes. Tre Talks are described as “entertaining presentations on current health topics” for residents of Houston’s historic Third Ward.

Dr. Munish Chawla will be the featured presenter. Chawla and his wife Dr. Bandana Chawla are physicians who are board certified in lifestyle medicine, and founders of the nonprofit, Peaceful Planet Foundation.

“Dr. M,” as many Third Ward residents refer to Munish, says though the upcoming Tre Talk is advertised as focusing on diabetes, he will be covering much more ground than that.

“We’re going to talk about diabetes and also I’m going to open it up to other chronic diseases and how our diet and lifestyle affect us being able to get diabetes or not get diabetes, [but] to treat, and in some cases, even reverse some of these chronic diseases, including diabetes,” said Chawla.

Chawla says he will share with attendees that a healthy diet and lifestyle “has the promise of not just treating or even reversing diabetes, but also reversing other chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, even autoimmune diseases.”

“We’re seeing an epidemic of these diseases in our society right now [and] a healthy diet lifestyle can really affect all of these things,” he added.

According to a HoustonHealth.org report, more than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes and one in three adults have pre-diabetes.

People who have diabetes, particularly if their diabetes is untreated, are likely to face complications such as blindness, heart disease and the loss of limbs. The report says that even with these grim potential outcomes, “with proper lifestyle management and treatment, the risk of these complications can be greatly reduced (since there are things that can be modified through our actions),” which is exactly the message Chawla will be presenting.

The national medical community has come to know as fact that in addition to personal actions, numerous other factors also affect the prevalence of diabetes, such as fewer opportunities to obtain fresh foods, opportunities to exercise, unavailability of green spaces, unstable housing, pollution, lack of access to preventive healthcare and others. This means diabetes and other chronic conditions tend to hit Black and Latinx communities the hardest (HoustonHealth.org).

And according to a 2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, a person’s zip code is more important than their genetic code in predicting how many years they will live.

Amazingly, Harris County’s “Black, Non-Hispanic” population is bucking that trend. Though Blacks have the highest percentage of people with diabetes (16.4%) when compared to white and Latinx/Hispanic populations nationally, Blacks in Harris County (11.8%) are nearly equal with whites (11.3%) as having the lowest percentage of persons with the condition

Prevalence of diabetes among adults by race/ethnicity (2018 – 2020)

Race/EthnicityHarris CountyTexasUnited States
Black, Non-Hispanic11.8%15.6%16.4%
White, Non-Hispanic11.3%10.8%11.9%

The Tre Talk will take place at Doshi House (3419 Emancipation Ave., Houston, TX 77004), a vegan eatery and coffee shop in Third Ward.

“So, the folks at Northern Third Ward, the University of Houston Fertitta College of Medicine and our non-profit, Peaceful Planet, and Doshi House are all collaborating just to give folks an idea [that] this is not rocket science. This is not difficult; just eating healthy, moving more, getting adequate sleep, and just finding healthy ways to manage our stress, these things have a profound impact on the health of our body,” shared Chawla.

“We are proud to partner with community organizations to make Tre Talks a reality – where we share a meal and health information with Third Ward residents,” said Linda Civallero, director of Community Engagement at the UH Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, one of Tre Talk’s sponsors.

These Tre Talks exist because of health inequities suffered by communities of color and individuals and families economically classified as “lower-income.”

Dr. Bandana Chawla and Sherra Aguirre at SHAPE Community Center. Photo by Aswad Walker.

According to “Health Disparity and Health Inequity: 2019 Trends and Data Report, Houston/Harris County”:

Health inequity is a result of disparities in the core causes of health that are less than optimal. Access to health care and medical care are obviously important; however, health is also affected by many more aspects of life. Among the key factors are: socio-economic variables such as education, income, and occupation at the individual and the neighborhood level; environment; institutional and systems level discrimination; poverty; racism; neighborhood conditions; biology; access to health care; housing; immigration status; and individual risk behaviors. In general, those with lower incomes and less education face more stressors in their daily lives, with resulting higher rates of disease and disability.

The impact of health inequities has an outsized impact as Houston is the fourth largest city in the US, with an estimated 2017 population of 2.3 million. Not only that, the Houston/Harris County population is now a “majority-minority” urban area, where no one racial/ethnic group is in the majority.

The Kinder Institute at Rice University noted that in 2010, the Houston metropolitan area became the nation’s most racially/ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the nation. While the largest growth has been among Latinos, other racial/ethnic groups in the metropolitan region have also either increased or remained the same.

During the period from 2000 to 2016, the percentage of Hispanics in the Houston/Harris County population increased from 32.9% to 41.8%. During this same time period, the white population decreased from 42.1% of the population to 31.0%, and the Black population remained relatively steady, changing from 18.2% in 2000 to 18.5% in 2016. The Asian population increased from 6.1% of the Houston/Harris County population in 2000 to 6.7% in 2016.

(The photos in the slideshow below are from the Sept. 22, 2022 Tre Talk on COVID held at Blackshear Elementary School. Photos courtesy the University of Houston’s Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine)

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Most of Houston is contained within Harris County. Harris County, including Houston, is home to approximately 4.7 million residents. The Houston metropolitan area, sometimes referred to as Greater Houston, encompasses a nine-county area of Harris and surrounding counties that stretches to Galveston and along the Gulf Coast. This area, also known as the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), contains approximately 6.9 million residents, according to US Census estimates.

Chawla’s approach to his upcoming Tre Talk, to expand the conversation beyond just diabetes makes sense, especially in Harris County. Nationally, six in 10 adults have a chronic disease. Listed below are the percentages of Harris County residents who reported on the Texas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey that they are dealing with these conditions [The Texas BRFSS, initiated in 1987, is a federally supported landline and cellular telephone survey that collects data about Texas residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services]:

#1 Hypertension, 36.4%

#2 Obesity, 32%

#3 Arthritis, 16.9%

#4 Depressive Disorders, 12.6%

#5 Diabetes, 10.2%

#6 Cancer, 9.4%

#7 Oral Disease, 8.4%

#8 Asthma, 6.5%

#9 Heart Disease, 6.4%

#10 Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 6.4%

Still, Chawla has a very specific message he hopes to hammer home to Tre Talk attendees that goes against the assumptions of most.

“Diabetes is not dictated by our genes. How we eat, how we move, how we manage our stress, and the quality of our sleep has a lot more to say whether we get diabetes or we can prevent diabetes or even treat, and in some cases reverse it,” he said.

Though space at Doshi House for the Oct. 20 Tre Talk is limited, Chawla says the information he will be sharing can be accessed by all who are interested, while referencing another holistic health initiative that he and his wife participated in early in 2022 through Houston’s iconic SHAPE Community Center and author/activist Sherra Aguirre.

“Our nonprofit is working to get this information out as we did during the event at SHAPE Community Center. Our message is the same: eat healthy, manage your stress well, bring some gardening [into your life] and other types of movement. These can really stem the tide against obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.”

Chawla added that his family’s non-profit will continue to do events in Third Ward beyond the Tre Talk.

Bishop Frank Rush converses with Dr. Reagan Flowers during the National Night Out 2022 at Third Ward’s Emancipation Park Oct. 4, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

“We’re working with Trinity United Methodist Church and soon we hope to be working with Bishop Frank Rush of Houston’s Praise and Worship Center. We want to collaborate with other folks in the community to get this message out.”

Chawla says the credentials he and his wife have, being longtime practicing physicians and board-certified Lifestyle Medicine practitioners, allows them to provide information and guidance on both western healthcare approaches and those considered traditional or holistic.

“Lifestyle Medicine is this wonderful new medical specialty, which says that we need medications at times, so that’s perfectly fine. But if we want to address the root cause [of chronic health issues] we cannot forget the diet and lifestyle piece. So that’s the message of Lifestyle Medicine and that’s our message to the community. We hope to be doing more events, working with more folks in the Third Ward to get this information out.”