6 Steps Black Folks Need to Take to Drop the Pounds

Actually, the first thing might be to take those six steps and turn them into a brisk walk around the block.

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It’s now late February, which means the folks who “resolutely” started clogging the gym after Jan. 1 have long since bailed, freeing up the machines for us regulars.

It’s also a great time to spread the brass tacks all over the damn floor.

America is, in the medical parlance of a close gastroenterologist friend of mine, a fat country. The black community suffers from the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity in the country.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think all black folks have to go out like that.

I worked at a hood high school where the cafeteria served students taco slime and nacho cheese on a bed of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, so I’m intimately aware of the roles that poverty, food deserts and bulletproof-glassed Shrimp Huts play on our community’s health. It’s an epidemic long overdue for attention.

But I’m writing to you moderately well-heeled black folks who still deal with this, even though you have access to and can afford good groceries. It’s a deep, multifaceted issue that I can only touch on here.

Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s PBS documentary, Soul Food Junkies, offers a historical perspective into our relationship with the food that’s wiping us out. Packed with interviews from doctors and academics, the doc is framed around Hurt’s father, whose refusal to improve his diet contributed to his death at 63 from pancreatic cancer, which hits us exponentially harder than other ethnic groups.

Those of us with family hailing from the South (read: most of us) are likely kindred in our view of a large soul food dinner with family. The irony is that we good Christian folk gather ’round to pray for “nourishment” from food that’s killing us.

Unfortunately, many of us pay for the gastronomic sins of our parents. Pops bought us a doughnut for breakfast before school daily. Mama took us to Wendy’s for dinner once a week. Considering that my idea of athleticism was how vigorously I could smash the “B” button on my Nintendo controller, puberty ushered in a chunk-butt phase that was stifled, albeit temporarily, by a growth spurt in 11th grade.  

Of course, our food—cheap, fatty, sugary, salty and processed—is the primary culprit of an obesity epidemic that transcends race. A look at the menus of Applebee’s, TGI Fridays or any other s–tbox ‘Murican restaurant makes it crystal clear that we also struggle with moderation on top of an apparent fear of anything resembling a vegetable. The reason folks visiting from other countries step off an airplane and are immediately aghast is that they don’t have our diet.