Poor eating habits and lack of exercise among African Americans increases their risk of developing cancer, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, according to recent studies by the Public Health Institute (PHI) and the California Department of Health Services (CDHS).

Health care professionals at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine Sciences (CDU), a medical school and college in Los Angeles that provides health care to underserved populations, believes this trend of poor nutrition in African Americans is a cause for concern.

CDU President Charles Francis, PhD, says, “We see evidence of this every day in our [African American] patients who have a higher incidence of obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, than the rest of the population.”

CDU is especially concerned with the poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyle of many black youths. PHI studies have found that black teens are spending less time participating in physical activity and more time watching TV, playing video games and using the computer. In fact, African-American teens spend an average of 188 minutes a day watching television, compared to other young adults who average 130 minutes a day. Black teens also have poorer nutrition, according to studies by the CDHS that found that this group eats too few fruits and vegetables, too many high-fat foods and is increasingly overweight.

But African-American teens are not the only ones participating in these unhealthy behaviors, the study concludes black adults’ increased risk of many types of disease is, in part, a result of their own poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

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“Our people are dying,” says Elaine Williams, PhD, a doctor at CDU. “This is real for us. Health disparities in this country widen every year, and this chronic condition is threatening our lives.”

To combat this trend of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, the CDU challenges African Americans to take it upon themselves to follow healthy dietary guidelines, such as eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. The university’s Task Force for Nutrition advises black teens and children to increase their physical activity to 60 minutes a day and encourages black adults to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

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