On Blacks and Fat: Dr. Ian K. Smith

The celebrity doctor says we must realize that what's beautiful to us isn't always healthy.

Courtesy of Dr. Ian K. Smith
Courtesy of Dr. Ian K. Smith

IKS: There’s so much. African Americans have to really listen to messages and the advice about the dangers of poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. Here’s the deal with us: We have to not just pay lip service to the idea that we have to change our habits. There are not many people on Earth, regardless of education, who don’t realize that eating poorly is going to lead to medical complications. That battle is won. Just like people know that drugs are not good for you, but people still use drugs.

What we have to figure out in the African-American community is how to get people to realize that even a slight modification in behavior can make a major difference in the risk profile that we disproportionately suffer from. That’s our task. We have to keep sounding the bell. The Steve Harveys of the world, the Tom Joyners, the local school board members … everyone has a role to play in the fight.

TR: If you could make just one suggestion for people to implement in their daily lives with respect to weight and health, what would it be?

IKS: Physical activity. Physical activity is the absolute number one thing that promotes better weight management and long-term health. Diet plays a big part, too, but if I could only write one prescription, it would be 30 to 40 minutes of moderate physical activity four to five days a week. Physical activity can affect your blood vessels, it can affect the blood flow to your heart and to your brain, your muscle, your balance, your bone. I’m a diet guy, but if I had to choose one, I would choose physical fitness.

TR: Are there any other cultural, historical or psychological issues that you think make the black community’s relationship with weight and health unique?

IKS: From a cultural standpoint, [we] have had a very romantic version of what is considered to be healthy physically. When African Americans have historically talked about being healthy, our image is much different from the medical definition. So we’ve had to spend the last years or so trying to reconcile what we’ve grown up believing is a great body habitus, versus what is a proper body habitus for good medical clearance.

You have celebrities and a lot of [influencers] who are overweight or obese and are saying it’s fine, it’s beautiful, there’s nothing wrong with it. That message is a very dangerous message. As African Americans, we need to separate aesthetic beauty versus medical fitness. And yes, you can love yourself aesthetically being overweight, but we should not settle for that when it is medically damaging.

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Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Roots staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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