November 23, 2005

African Americans and Latinos Mark Thanksgiving with Historic Meeting

ATLANTA, GA – For African American and Latino families, Thanksgiving – like most holidays – is a celebration where food is at the center of our traditions.

Sadly though, food as the centerpiece of African American and Latino holiday traditions – along with a lack of exercise, poor nutrition habits and other factors – are contributing to obesity rates in communities of color that are of epidemic proportions.

African American and Latino fraternities and sororities along with service organizations and philanthropic foundations are taking the issue of obesity head on.

Recently, and for the first time ever, more than 20 national representatives from African American fraternities, sororities and civic/social organizations representing Latino and African American communities from around the country gathered for an invitation-only day-and-a-half conference specifically to share ideas for collaboration that would help reduce the incidence of obesity among our nation’s children of color.

Sponsored by the Grant-makers for Children, Youth and Families (GCYF) and made possible by support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the day-and-a-half meeting represented the first time this many African American and Latino fraternity, sorority and service organizations gathered with some of the private foundations – despite sharing the same historic missions for improving the health and quality of life of America’s communities.

According to Dr. Stephanie McGencey, Executive Director of GCYF, the meeting provided the leadership of national African-American and Latino organizations the opportunity to share their lessons and experiences in volunteerism, advocacy, and their communications networks with the senior leadership of private philanthropic foundations.

Information presented at the conference points to the severity of the problem and the numbers are staggering:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Minority women lead the risk groups: 77 percent of Black females and 72 percent of Mexican females. The overweight group includes those in the worst shape; 49 percent of black women and 38 percent of Mexican women are obese.

The impact on children is severe. These women are the major nurturers and role models when it comes to food preparation, shopping and food consumption. Statistics indicate that 16 percent of all American children and teens are overweight, but minority children—six and above—show rates of overweight ranging from 17 to 26 percent. Approximately one in every four African American girls and one in every four Mexican American boys are too heavy to be healthy. The increased weight has fueled diseases rarely seen in children: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Obese children have shorter life spans. “We are in danger of raising the first generation of American children who will live sicker and die sooner than the generation before them,” according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President Risa Lavizzo Mourey.

Yvonne Yancey, Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs for the Kaiser Permanente Foundation in Georgia, is enthusiastic about the potential of bringing the considerable energies and creativity of Black Greek Letter organizations into the fight against obesity. In addition to being powerful voices for policy advocacy and community based prevention programs, she supports “out of the box thinking” to reach neighborhood kids. Yancey encourages sorors and fraternity brothers to require “pledge lines to take on a youth group near their university” or even captivate young people through some of the more entertaining aspects of fraternity life that the Greeks have made famous like Step Shows as a “powerful form of aerobic exercise that could segue into opportunities to teach kids about healthy lifestyles.”

The presence of Latino organizations with those focused on the African American community made the gathering with the private foundations truly historic.

The ingredients for a profitable philanthropic partnership around the obesity crisis in minority kids are obvious.

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