My Inspiration? A Healthy Black America

March 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

As I left the gym today, determined not to let another two weeks go by without working out, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with the guilt of sitting down for the rest of the day to work without doing something active. The truth is, if I don’t make the time to go to the gym, I would have very little physical activity for the day. The majority of my work requires that I sit in front of a computer. Being gluten- and dairy-free, consuming fresh and often organic fruits and vegetables, eliminating fried foods, shellfish and pork from my diet unfortunately does not automatically translate into being thin. Keeping the weight off is a constant struggle for me. It’s a battle that I fight every day and I often wonder if I will ever win. Being thin is not the goal. But, being healthy is. Diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer – the leading causes of death for African Americans – have gravely impacted by family. So, being slightly obsessive about my weight is less about appearance and more about living.

Black women have the highest prevalence rate of obesity in the United States. Nearly 50% of us are overweight or obese. As we age, the prevalence rate increases to over 60% for Black women over 60 years of age. It is estimated that if current trends persist, all Black women will be overweight or obese by 2034. Many researchers are now identifying obesity as the main factor driving racial disparities in health among women.

I started this blog because of the obesity epidemic and the host of other chronic health conditions and mental health problems that exist in Black communities across the country. In Los Angeles, the 10th most segregated city in the U.S. where over 3.7 million people reside, disparities in health by race and income are ubiquitous and systematically distributed by zip code. South Los Angeles (formerly South Central LA), where of 31% of African American Los Angelenos live (down from 71% since 1980) has the highest rate of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, hypertension, and mental distress in Los Angeles County. South LA also has the highest adult sedentary behavior and the poorest adult nutrition ratings in the County.

Several factors contribute to poor physical and mental health in South LA and other predominantly Black and low-income neighborhoods across the country; many of which I will be discussing in future blogs. But it’s safe to say that factors range from the level of policy to individual behavior; individual behavior being the primary focus of policy makers and interventions. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign highlights the importance of physical activity, access and consumption of healthy foods to combat childhood obesity. Less discussed, however, is the impact of segregation, food deserts, the high cost of fresh produce and organic foods, social stress, the dearth of safe places to walk, the marketing of high-calorie and low nutrient-dense food, the higher prevalence of fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and the general lack of health supportive resources in Black and low-income neighborhoods compared to non-Hispanic white and more affluent neighborhoods.

It is important for individuals to make healthy choices. But, wouldn’t it be easier to make those choices if there were more healthy options? Many of the barriers to good health can be manipulated at different levels of government using the traditional policy levers, including regulations, taxes, subsidies, and information campaigns focusing on education, transportation, urban planning, healthcare, agriculture and food assistance programs. But we can’t wait for policies. We need to take our health – physical and mental – into our own hands. Educate, advocate, lead, support. Let’s move. Let’s act!

To your health,

KDL

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