MCJ HEALTH FOCUS
By Dr. Patricia McManus
President, Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin
Last week we learned a lot about the historical nature of why we are unhealthy as a people. It is important to understand the nature of what has happened to us as well as what role we continue to play in not being healthy. African Americans must begin to take responsibility for our current state of affairs no matter how it started.
Understanding our history should be part of the key to making a difference. It should not be used as an excuse for continuing the bad habits that we have acquired over the centuries. Author Barbara Dixon states:
“We are a vigorous people and I believe we can overcome our worst health statistics by drawing on our past for strength and knowledge, and by learning how the foods we eat and the way we live today affect our bodies.”
So let’s begin by restating the most serious risks to our health: obesity, smoking , drinking, drug use (Illegal and prescription) , fatty diets, sugar, salt, lack of physical exercise, high salt intake, untreated high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and finally stress, especially the stress of being Black in America.
Any one or all of these risks can have a major impact on the quality of our lives and more importantly how long we live.
African Americans still have a life expectancy that is between 6-10 years less than White Americans.
We continue to identify disparities between whites and Blacks in this country. Another one is the number of African Americans who reach the age to begin to obtain Social Security Benefits. Too many African Americans work for years and never receive any of their benefits or die after only a few years of receiving benefits.
The purpose of this discussion is for us to become educated on what we need to do to make a difference. But education is not enough. We also need to determine what will motivate us to make a change in our health seeking behavior.
I know how difficult this can be. I had previously stated that I have been struggling with losing weight for the past 10 years. Someone might say, “What good is she, if she has problems too?”
But I would say, “Who better than someone who understands how difficult this process is?” I can say with conviction to never give up. If you try and fail, keep trying. Do not become depressed by your failures; become more convinced that it is a part of the process toward success. Believe it or not, bad habits are not easy to learn.
We repeat them over and over again until they become second nature to us. To unlearn bad behaviors, we must learn good ones until they become second nature to us. So let’s get into the frame of mind that we intend to succeed.
For the next several months we will talk about what to do and what types of support we need to assist us in this journey. Each of us will have to chart our own course. Some of us do better with support groups, some of us do better with one other person or by ourselves.
We each have to determine this for ourselves. We may have to try different ways to figure out what is best for us. We cannot look at others and wonder why they can do it and we cannot. We Can!
But we have to determine the best way for us. Starting this journey is the way we all figure it out for ourselves and for those we love. I am a guide, but not the only answer. Once you get on the road, you will be able to find some of your own techniques as well.
Caption for picture of Clara Mohammed School’s Bantu Students—
Somali Bantu students Osman Ahmed, Habiba Mohamed, Isha Mberwa and Salah Ahmed stand in front of Clara Mohammed School. (Photo by Harry Kemp)