By James Ewers
If you don’t have your health then you don’t have anything is an expression that I have heard for many years. As I grow closer to eating free in some restaurants, I am paying closer attention. Reports suggest that black people get sick more often and die sooner. While some would groan, I think it is what we put in our bodies and how we treat them. Everything that tastes good isn’t necessarily good for you. Those of us who grew up in the South had our share of tasty dishes. Personally, I can’t remember too many weeks when my mom didn’t have neck bones, pig feet, chitterlings or ox tails on the table. She put her own brand of seasoning on them and my dad and I had a field day. I can’t tell you the last time I had a neck bone or some trotters (pig feet). Have my taste buds gone sour and my eating habits changed? I think so. There are some foods now that I just don’t eat anymore. I think this goes for a lot of African Americans. There are some compelling reasons for this change. We suffer in large numbers from high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol. Obesity for many people who look like me starts at an early age. “Obesity is a huge problem,” Dr. Andrea Goings, a pediatrician in Toledo, Ohio, says in The Crisis Magazine. I have seen what I believe to be too many overweight black kids. There are some parents who think it’s rather cute to see their child stuff themselves with food. Dr. Goings says parents will say “he doesn’t eat that much.” In fact, she will learn later that “he eats a whole pizza”.
The National Center for Health statistics states that 69 percent of non-Hispanic black women are overweight compared to 47 percent of non-Hispanic white women. White men are 62 percent overweight compared to 58 percent of black men. All of us hear our doctors constantly tell us to watch our food intake and to exercise. Every time I see my physician, my weight is always checked. My weight at my doctor’s office and my weight on my scales at home is never the same. I am probably willing my scales to say that I weigh less than I do. Exercise is probably something that black people should do more. Having some physical regime, even walking, is good for us. Stacy Ann Mitchell, M.D., co-author with Teri D. Mitchell of the new book Livin Large, says, “You have to realize and accept that it’s your body, your health and your responsibility.” I agree that it is our responsibility no matter how difficult it is to make a change if need be. She adds, “You are fat because of what you do or don’t do. Eating too much and exercising too little are the key reasons why you have a problem. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth.”
In a recent issue of The Crisis Magazine, heart disease is listed as the number one cause of death among African Americans. It is estimated that more than 100,000 lives are lost per year due to this disease. Paul Underwood, M.D., a Phoenix, Arizona cardiologist and president of the Association of Black Cardiologists says, “Risk factors aren’t controlled well in African Americans. As a result, heart disease runs rampant in the community.” So chances are that if our parents had heart problems then we’ll probably have them too. However Underwood suggests that there is some hope for us. He states, “You won’t be able to reverse it 100 percent, but if you get some risk factors under control, it will help.”
One of the major factors connected to heart disease is smoking, especially when you start at an early age. Living for a large part of my life in the tobacco belt gave me a first-hand look at the harmful effects of tobacco use. I had relatives who smoked, chewed tobacco and dipped snuff. As a young boy, I even tried smoking for one week. It was made to look fashionable and cool. Cigarette advertisements were on a lot of billboards in Winston-Salem. At one point during the heyday of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, our city upon entering it smelled like tobacco. Popular opinion suggests that smoking is addictive and it is a sensitive subject for a number of African Americans. Yet there are clinics, treatments and prescriptions for those who want to stop. I do believe that taking the first step is the most important. Encouragement and support from family members and love providers will help those who want to quit. I have seen both sides of this equation; those who have stopped and unfortunately those who have died from it.
So as black folks, we must take better care of ourselves. We can’t be afraid to go to our doctor. Exercise is not optional but a requirement. No matter how good those ribs are, we can’t eat half of the slab and then complain about feeling dizzy. Good health is an important issue for all Americans, both black and white. It’s just that black people have more health problems and because of them, our time on the planet is not as long.