Is It Just Me, Or Do Too Many Black People Not Take Their Health Seriously?

January 10, 2013  |  

My great-grandmother had diabetes. So does my grandmother and one of her sisters. My mother pops pills on a daily basis to regulate her high blood pressure and my aunt is plagued by the same routine. A few other family members battle with these diseases as well, and I know plenty folks outside my bloodline who frequent hospitals and doctor’s offices due to raised glucose levels and weight problems. But from what I see, not many of them are doing too much about it besides complaining and shoving meds down their throats.

Every time I turn around, my mom is murdering a piece of fried chicken, fish, or shrimp, drinking soda or ordering and cooking any and everything she knows good and darn well she shouldn’t be eating. She’s always claiming she’s going on a diet or hitting the treadmill, yet I haven’t seen her do a crunch, squat or kick in years (expect if she’s on the dance floor and her song comes on, which is damn near every song, then that’s a different story).
And my stepfather is no different. He’s always complaining about his sore foot because of his “sugar,” but is the first one drinking Kool-Aid, putting bread on his chicken, or pouring sugar on his grits. He stocks up on the sugar-free snacks when he goes food shopping, but that doesn’t stop him from snooping in the kitchen to steal a non-sugar-free treat and excusing it by claiming he can have “some” sweets. But it seems to me that his “some” is a little past a lot.

As unfortunate as it is, this problem stretches far beyond my household. Living in the predominantly black city that is Newark, New Jersey, all I see is this: a pattern of unhealthy eating in my community. Everywhere you turn, there’s a McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, mom and pop chicken shack, Chinese spot or liquor store. Rarely will you find a juice bar or restaurant dedicated to healthy eating. Those things are few and far between, but mostly located in areas where Caucasians and other non-black “visitors” are known to populate; places like Downtown near our handful of colleges (Rutgers Newark, UMDNJ, NJIT and Essex County), by the hospitals, the airport, or our money-making arena, The Prudential Center.

It’s sad to say, but healthy spots in the “hood” tend to be non-existent or end up getting shut down due to poor business. One of my cousins opened up a Subway near one of the city’s most notorious housing projects and is in the process of relocating because no one is eating there. To be honest, I don’t know too many black people who aren’t obsessed with sweets, salt, bread and grease. I myself have always struggled with weight problems and unhealthy eating, although I’ve done better since becoming more educated on the numerous possible health issues for me and aware of the fact that this is a serious problem and a huge epidemic. I work out, try to incorporate healthy food choices into my diet, but I still find myself over-indulging in foods that I know aren’t beneficial to my health.

I’ve come to realize that this thing is more than just taking a liking to foods that taste good. While we love all those fatty, heart attack-inducing treats, it’s way bigger than that. Although America as a whole struggles with obesity and other food-related health issues, African Americans suffer in particular, and statistics show it. We have been made into junk-eating enthusiasts. As a tradition for some, we’ve been raised generation by generation on hog mogs, pig fat and chitlins until we embraced it as the norm.

This is no secret. And while many of us know how we eat is detrimental on many levels, we choose to do nothing about it. I often hear people say, “Well, we have to die from something. Why not die living life the way we want to?” Really? Is that why so many people complain about their sore feet, bad eyes, swollen ankles, hypertension-induced headaches, hospital visits, too-tight jeans, daily pill intakes and needle injections? Because they’re living life the way they want to? Not hardly. A lot of our people don’t realize that their food choices and these problems go hand-in-hand. Although I’m not perfect, I understand that I still have work to do and I am willing and working toward change. For those who are still stuffing their faces with all the wrong things yet complaining and making excuses all along, the question is, are you?

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  • NN

    Black people don’t think we should care for our health. We think Obama, a white doctor or some other entity should take care of our bodies. It stems from slavery when white people actually did care for our health.

    The deep south is the worse. Home remedies, prayer and Dr. Buzzard got us through. We ate from the earth. We worked the earth for hours. So back then it really didn’t matter that we weren’t eating healthy food or went to the gym.

    Now hundreds of years later, add processed sugars, carbs, chemicals, sedentary lifestyles, toxic relationships and you have the perfect combination for a slow genocide.

    Black bodies don’t even look the same anymore. Our bellies protrude more. Our skin looks patchy and dry. Our hair is dry and brittle Black Americans are not the same genetically that we once were. We are no longer as useful to this society as we were during slavery.

    You can now tell the class of a black person by how they eat. A lot of lower class blacks sweet, salty, stinky, gas creating food. A lot of middle class blacks eat out at restaurants. A lot of well off blacks eat greens, light foods.

    This may not be politically correct, but this is what I see everyday. Only the strong, smart and chosen will survive.

  • Kam

    I get so annoyed when I hear my dad’s side of the family complain about whats ailing them at the moment. My dad is officially the oldest living male member from his family, everyone else died at a fairly young age from issues with diabetes, high blood pressure, and strokes. I didnt start paying attention to those things, and the fact that I am so very much (genetic wise) like his side of the family. I severely cut down on my red meat consumption (I might eat a burger every now and again), I don’t eat pork, started eating vegetables (I still hate vegetables, I just mash them up to help get them down quicker) and started doing yoga and running. I like organic produce but I’ve started choosing which items I prefer to be organic because it really is ridiculously over priced. My husband wasnt too keen on the elimination of beef and pork because he swore he couldnt stand the taste of ground turkey. I told him he has been eating it for as long as I’ve been cooking for him so get over it. I think it just takes a mental change, and a desire to live better for people to make the changes that stick.

  • Dee

    the BIGGEST issue here that is worth mentioning is the fact that a lot of African/West Indian- Americans don’t cook or eat in their houses anymore. Even the friend chicken you make at house is healthier than Popeyes (not that I condone fried chicken but you get the point). We need to get our kids involved in the kitchen and cooking so that they can make better eating choices outside from us

  • chanela

    how about we advocate going to the club for fitness? drop it low and drop them pounds : )

  • SheBe

    Aside from the obvious and what’s already stated, a heavy emphasis should be placed on the price and access of organic foods. Yeah you can go into Walmart and get veggies but they are not fresh (local), covered in pesticides and unnatural fertilizers, & are not ripe (orange tomatoes anyone?). The chicken is bloated looking and lacks a healthy color. The red meats are the same. If you take the packaged beef of Walmart or another grocery store to a health food store the appearance is remarkable! The health food store meat is clearly not loaded with fat and garbage. Veggies and meat at Walmart are also conveniently priced and more affordable. At a health food store these things are much more expensive. For example, ground beef I think is closer to $5 or $6 per pound. The cows used are only grass fed. We eat Bison (almost as lean as turkey and packed with protein) when we do consume red meat which runs at $9.98 per pound. This is a problem for our community because people who want to eat healthy cant afford the better choices. I have a veggie garden of my own but I’m a stay home mom. Everyone doesn’t have the time to maintain their own or the resources. Community gardening at home, church’s or community centers can help this problem. My husband is an exec at our water company and helped our church get water access to a very large community garden that’s accessible to the community FOR FREE! People still don’t use it. I guess you can’t make people do better; they have to want it. I’m not trying to switch blame but there are so many different ways this issue has to be handled.

    • Tanycha

      Part of your success is that you’ve built your life around health enhancing practices. Many of us don’t want to make that type of commitment. It requires learning new ways to prepare foods, eliminating favorite items, maybe even consuming considerably less meat altogether. That means, for some of us, reconfiguring some of our most entrenched food-centered traditions: Superbowl, Thanksgiving,”The Holidays”, birthdays, etc.

      Last New Year, I and my husband relinquished flesh from our diets. Although I’ve collected receipes for two years prior and bought a couple of really good vegetarian cook books, 2012 was definately the year of learning what to eat; what to eat for every breakfast; what to eat a barbeques and picknics; what to eat during festivals, when your happy, sad. You know the deal. It’s work! And then there is peer pressure from family and friends who refuse the thought of witnessing you give up sticky ribs and soda.Very “challenging” to say the least.

      I think those of us who have made the steps to improve our food choices and lifestyle should include our love ones and friends. Prepare a healthier version of a traditional meal. Invite them to dinner, lunch or even snack. They like to eat. It’s challenging to jump from rib tips to totally vegan, trust me. However, there are steps in between that can persuade those overstimulated taste buds of the delectibility of simpler, health-enhancing foods. It may be slow going, but through sharing, there is hope for us yet.

  • afroveda

    Our lifestyles are too sedentary. I agree with one of the previous comments that people aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to live long and healthy lives. I just read an article at Webmd stating that Americans die younger and have higher rates of many diseases compared to other high income countries. @ Pickneychile is so right…everything in moderation.

  • KIR12

    In addition to that, after a certain age (usually around 30) black women carrying a lot of weight start looking like Rasputia or Sofia from The Color Purple. Not a good look, ma.

  • pickneychile

    Some people act like they are slaves to food, and like eating healthy is too difficult. Everything is permissible in moderation so it’s not like you have to literally give up everything you like! And It’s not just African Americans, Caribbean people are often the same way. I am naturally thin and anytime I go back home people act like I’m sick! Smh we have to do better!

    • kierah

      We are slaves to food. Sugar, high fructose corn syrup and trans fats are found to be addictive. We crave them and when those foods are placed all around you, what else will you eat.
      We don’t need COINTELPRO to flood our communities with heroin anymore. Let them be flooded with liquor stores, Chinese takeout, and Crown Fried Chicken joints.
      Side bar: Have you noticed that when you go to the Chinese takeout spot, the Chinese workers are never eating they stuff they are selling? Think about before you order your next General Tso’s chicken.

      • lisa

        That is because they eat a healthier version of their own food. What the serve to customers is the American version which is normally loaded with sodium and grease. I’ve lived outside the U.S. and a lot of these foods are prepared differently then when in the U.S. The Olive Garden isn’t nearly as healthy as the “real” Italian versions. Plus let’s be honest I never see ANYONE who works at these places eating their own food. Even the soul food places!

  • kierah

    Because certain diseases are so prevalent in our families and communities, I think many of us think they are unavoidable.
    My 24 year old cousin (on my husband’s side) from Mississippi is obese with diabetes and kidney issues. She believes that her situation is genetic. So I asked how do you explain your brother, his sons, my husband, and his mother? None of them are obese or have any of the diseases plaguing the rest of y’all.
    Common denominator is they all left their small town in Mississippi. They exposed themselves to new foods and new lifestyles.
    Poor girl just got diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She has no health insurance. I don’t know how Affordable Health Care act affects her now, but as of last year, she was ineligible for Medicaid because she was single and childless. Her health conditions are chronic and the only drs she sees are in the ER.
    Many people are in my cousin’s shoes and have a similar mindset. I wish some of us had never heard the word “genetic” because we took it as a excuse not to try to change.

    • Live_in_LDN

      She’s 24?????????? Damn….

  • espressobean

    I think a lot of older people may secretly worry about their health, which is why they complain about it all the time. However, I feel that they don’t want to make the sacrifices necessary to heal their body and would rather continue to pop those blood pressure pills rather than to stop popping those cheese Pringles. *side-eye to my momma