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Creating a healthy legacy

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Jane Ujoatu, DrPH, MS, RDN, LD, CPH

"Making Healthy Impact"

In the minority population the rates of chronic diseases are disproportionately higher when compared to non-Hispanic whites. Based on most recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 34.2 Americans have diabetes, which is 1 in 10 adults. Data also shows that new cases of diabetes are higher among minority blacks and people of Hispanic origin than non-Hispanic whites. High blood pressure is also more common in blacks at a rate of 54% when compared to 46% for non-Hispanic Whites. In terms of blood pressure control, non-Hispanic whites have better control/management than the minority population. How about obesity? Well data from 2017-2019 also shows that black and Hispanics have high rates of overweight/obesity when compared to non-Hispanic whites. Most recently we have been faced with COVID-19, which has unduly affected minority populations mostly blacks and Hispanics has its roots tied to the high rates of chronic diseases affecting these population groups.

So, one might wonder why there is a higher prevalence of chronic diseases in the minority population than in non-Hispanic whites. Well, some of the causes that have been identified through research includes a lack of education among the minority population, lack of quality access to nutrient dense foods and healthcare services, inequalities, lack of insurance- ½ to 2 times percent of minorities are without insurance compared to whites, low/poor income, cultural and religious factors, and lifestyle factors like lack of physical activity and the foods we eat.

Although we cannot directly address the systemic causes of high rates of chronic diseases in the minority population, we have the power to change our lifestyle behaviors to help manage our health and have a better quality of life. Here are ways in which our eating habits can be improved especially for the minority population. We can learn to choose from a variety of foods. When preparing your meals, think of the beautiful colors of the rainbow and make sure that your plate is as colorful as the rainbow. This helps to ensure that you are getting all of the necessary nutrients from every food group. It is also important to pay attention to balance, which means that we are not favoring one food over another. That is, not only eating fried chicken and mac and cheese, which can lead to your body not getting adequate nutrition. However, you want a balanced representation of all foods on your plate. This also means being mindful of the portion/serving amounts that you choose from. Overeating or choosing large amounts of foods daily can lead not only to overweight/obesity but other chronic diseases. It is also important to keep in mind your salts and fats intake as overeating these nutrients can worsen high blood pressure and cardiovascular/heart diseases. You may be wondering at this point what foods should you be choosing from daily? You should be choosing from your whole grains- wheat breads, pasta, rice; lean proteins like meats, chicken, eggs; fruits like apples, kiwi, banana; vegetables like mushrooms, greens, peppers; and lean dairy like low fats yogurt, milk, cheese. You want to also be mindful of your preparation method. This means that you should avoid including heavy fats from animal products, salts and salty seasonings, and overly frying your foods. Instead choose grilling, baking, or steaming your foods. Avoid eating out excessively. Make it a treat and choose to eat out once a week or less.

Physical activity is also important and a lifestyle habit that is in your power to change. The recommendation is for everyone to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly. You can achieve this by exercising for 30 minutes up to 5 days each week. It is also important to include at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week to help strengthen your muscles.

It is imperative that we take it upon ourselves to make these lifestyle changes because it will lead to several benefits. These benefits include prevention or management of chronic diseases mentioned above. You look better physically, your mental state and stress is better managed, and most of all you have better quality of life and improved life expectancy.

We know that chronic diseases like heart disease/high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight/obesity just to name a few disproportionately affects minority populations when compared to whites. We also know that there are systematic changes that need to be made through policies to improve equitable access to healthcare, food, and insurance. However, we do know that lifestyle changes like choosing nutritious foods and engaging in routine physical activity, avoiding smoking and so on lies in our hands. So, it is important that we start now and take control of our own health by choosing healthier lifestyle behaviors.

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