By: Moriah Israel
Lifestyle diseases, or illnesses that are primarily associated with daily living habits, make up 4 of 5 of the leading causes of death for Black Americans. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are all said to derive from the foods we eat and how often we move our bodies. Many assume this to be an easy fix; just teach people to eat more vegetables and exercise. Simple right?
For decades, researchers have addressed intervention and prevention strategies in way that parallels some kind of utopic society where from birth, you wake up in the morning with, choice of breakfast of recommended nutrition value, or delicious snack that makes you sick, such as coffee and a donut. You press one of two buttons and proceed to prepare for your day. Everyone eats at the same time, and they are all presented with the same options. People who experience negative health outcomes are ordered to watch an old black and white video about the dangers of pressing the wrong button. Common health education programs fail to acknowledge the fact that some people only have one button, and it isn’t guaranteed to work all of the time.
Current programs encourage at-risk populations to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water, and stay away from fat and sugar. However, not everyone has access to healthy choices. Many are not presented with 2-3 servings of fruit and 3-4 servings of vegetables a day, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids. Some argue that ignorance in African American communities has become abhorrence because they know the components of a healthy lifestyle, yet the seemingly intentional distance between themselves and health-inducing circumstances presents a frustrating query that it is easier to avoid. The choice to be healthy in low income, African American communities is one met with numerous barriers.
Take one of the oldest communities in Cincinnati for example. Walnut Hills is 80% blacks and 19% White, with a median household income of $19,885. This neighborhood is riddled with fast food restaurants, corner stores, and funeral homes; very few of the establishments in this neighborhood are dedicated to increasing healthy behaviors. However, when we look at a neighborhood like Hyde Park which is 92.5% White, 4% Black, and 4% Asian, with a median income of $74,053. This vibrant neighborhood has strip of small businesses that offer healthy food options and multiple places to engage in physical fitness. The grocery stores in Hyde park offer fresh produce and vegan options.
Current efforts to revitalize Walnut Hills include new housing units and children centers, critical needs in the area. Be that as it may, this population is in dire need of wellness programs that work from the inside-out. Community planners must involve key stakeholders in this process to develop culturally sensitive strategies. Current programs bombard at-risk populations with the “what’s” and the “whys” of lifestyle change, but few have effectively addressed the “how”. People know that fruits and vegetables are better for their bodies than donuts and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
There is a general understanding about the relationship between exercise and changes in the body in urban communities. Educators need to reframe their efforts to demonstrate realistic changes. You can’t tell a 57-year-old full time employee, church secretary, and legal guardian of 3 children younger than 10, to come to an event that will spew the same standards Timer used to interrupt their Saturday morning cartoons with.