Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., President & CEO, Black Enterprise
I recently read a powerful quote that has stuck with me. It was a statement related to the obesity problem that consumes our nation: “We are slowly digging our graves with a knife and fork.” I can think of no assertion that more accurately reflects the condition faced by large numbers of African Americans. To be blunt: Due to our dietary habits and inactive lifestyles, African Americans—including some of my family members, friends, and colleagues—disproportionately place ourselves in harm’s way. And the sad truth is that we have the power to control the outcome.
If you think I’m being too harsh, just review the statistics on the status of African Americans’ waistlines. According to the Office of Minority Health, we are 1.5 times more likely to become obese than whites. The agency also found that African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese versus other groups in the U.S.; about four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. This trend extends to our children as well: theyare 30% more likely to become overweight than whites.
Our tendency to contract debilitating, life-threatening diseases is directly linked to eating habits and lack of exercise. Medical research bears out this conclusion, and the impact on our individual and collective well-being has been devastating. We are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as whites, and suffer complications from diabetes, including renal failure and lower extremity amputations. African American women are 35% more susceptible to heart disease than white women. While African Americans have the same rate of high cholesterol, we are 50% more prone to suffer a stroke than our white adult counterparts.
This prognosis should raise an alarm; bringing home the realization that ultimately our health represents our wealth. If we don’t commit tobeing fit then we cannot be at our most productive at home or in the workplace. If sidelined by a long-term ailment, you will quickly find your wealth-building prospects diminished and your bank account depleted by hefty medical bills—the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy. This scenario has befallen hundreds who have reached their peak earning years—that is, if they lived long enough to enjoy them.
We must also discard superficial, harmful practices that serve to sabotage our health maintenance. For example, UnitedHealth Group Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs Reed Tuckson recently teamed with Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin to launch a campaign to encourage African American women to develop regular exercise regimens. One of the chief barriers: Benjamin found many don’t exercise because they don’t want to get their hair mussed up. My response: It’s your hair or your life—literally. Don’t let false vanity put you into an early grave. (Read, “No More Excuses,” this issue.)
The more common excuse among busy professionals is that they don’t have enough time to work out or properly plan meals. My advice: Approach your health in the same manner as your career, business, or finances—with discipline and diligence. These days, you have no reason not to embrace such practices. For one, you can go online and access any number of websites to help you design meal plans, and track your caloric intake. Keep a barometer of health basics—body mass index, cholesterol, and blood pressure—and, by all means, make sure you get regular check-ups. Also, schedule workouts as if they were business meetings.
I know many of you may think it’s odd that I’m sharing such life-and-death advice in an issue that our editors devoted to a passion for food. Read our editorial package and you’ll find a myriad of entrepreneurs and professionals who embrace healthy eating. Moreover, I am not advocating that you should deprive yourself of a good meal now and again.
Whether you’re reed thin or tilting the scales, such treats should come in moderation while plotting a healthy menu should be a daily routine. Let nothing get in the way of good health. You’ll find that it’s your most valuable asset.