Obesity: The Silent Killer

What will it take to get African Americans to stand up and fight this costly epidemic?

From a child’s first breath, the top priority for every parent is to ensure that child is properly fed, meaning enough, but not more than he or she needs Tips for healthy nutrition, including what to eat and how much, can be found at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan .

Physicians, nutritionists, schools and health care companies all share a responsibility to help educate parents in healthy nutrition. Unfortunately, more and more children are eating too much and too many of the wrong things.

Next, we need to commit to exercising and moving our bodies. If you’re not exercising regularly, then start today. Exercising does not have to mean joining a gym or buying expensive equipment. It can mean walking, gardening, swimming, playing active games with kids, praise or ballroom dancing, or “vigorous” house work.  Get started by visiting www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children .

(And, by the way ladies, is your hairstyle a barrier to exercising? If so, it’s time to put your SURVIVAL first. After all, what’s more important?)

Finally, all of us have a responsibility to urge government and business to do more to combat obesity. If we don’t do something about it, the health care costs tied to obesity will more than quadruple in eight years.

If you are a member of a church, civic association, fraternity or sorority (and I bet many of you are), you can mobilize these organizations to change the communities touched by these organizations.  Are there safe, accessible walking and biking trails? Advocate for the creation of them. Do the schools that serve your children have healthy food choices and PE programs? Lobby the school administration. Are there adequate healthy choices at the supermarkets near you? Work with the store managers to change that.

Obesity is tipping the scales as one of the nation’s biggest problems, but as First Lady Michelle Obama has pointed out, this is the first time in history that children may have shorter life expectancies than their parents.  Mrs. Obama is on a mission to change that. Working together, at the national, local and individual levels, we can make real and lasting progress.

Reed V. Tuckson, M.D., is Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs at UnitedHealth Group, and is responsible for working with all of the company’s business units to improve the quality and efficiency of health services. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the United Health Foundation. Dr. Tuckson is also ranked among the Black Enterprise 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America.

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  • Jesse Duncan

    I have observed for a long time that fast food restaurants that contribute to obesity are more frequent in low income neigborhoods, or where there are many apartment complexes. Somehow I think this goes hand in hand with the quality of life in these same neighborhoods.
    I have remarked a lack of these in middle class to wealthy neighborhoods.
    In addition to the fast food restaurants are the quality of food in the supermarkets in various neighborhoods. I was in a prdominantly hispanic area and the supermarket had a large bag of chicken part, (thighs, breasts, legs etc) for $4.99 the bag was about 10 lbs. the bags couldn’t stay long enough in the cooler. I wondered how could the store sell the chicken so cheap. I wondered if the chicken contained a lot of chemicals to make them grow faster, and the same chemicals contribute to weight gain.

  • I value this article but I believe that Dr. Tuckson has not completely addressed the issue. While people should take a proactive approach to their health, they can only do this when the correct information and supportive environment is available. Replacing healthy food in a child’s diet is important, but it has to be done within a multi-tiered community effort. A CDC report released in July 2009 showed that the best way to combat obesity is to make it a community effort that supports healthy eating and active living. Current research shows that simply changing what you eat will not significantly reduce obesity on a permanent basis. More importantly, this would allow politicians, public policy officials, and residents within a specific community to coordinate their efforts and be more effective.