A Cam­paign That Seeks Huge Losses (Of Weight)

Dis­eases Preva­lent Among Blacks Cause Con­cern

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Region - By Henri E. Cau­vin

It was the kind of weather that gets you go­ing whether you like it or not, which is ex­actly what or­ga­niz­ers of the 50 Mil­lion Pound Chal­lenge wanted to see yes­ter­day on the Mall.

If only to fight off the un­sea­son­ably frigid air, hun­dreds of peo­ple hop­ing to em­bark on a health­ier lifestyle took to their feet when gospel great Yolanda Adams beck­oned.

“I know it’s cold,” she told them, “but if you do what I say . . . it won’t be that cold.”

With a lit­tle help from her stir­ring voice, Adams soon had nearly ev­ery­one up and out of their seats, shak­ing off the shivers and per­haps a pound or two, which was why they were there.

“Now don’t tell me you can’t work out,” Adams said.

Spear­headed by Ian Smith, a doc­tor and fit­ness guru, the 50 Mil­lion Pound Chal­lenge is a na­tional cam­paign un­der­writ­ten by State Farm In­sur­ance Co. to im­prove the health of African Amer­i­cans.

Heart dis­ease and di­a­betes are among the lead­ing causes of death for African Amer­i­cans. If that is to change, pub­lic health ex­perts say, peo­ple must ex­er­cise more and eat bet­ter, which is eas­ier said than done, given the dearth of high-qual­ity su­per­mar­kets and restau­rants in poorer black com­mu­ni­ties.

With the 50 Mil­lion Pound Chal­lenge, or- ga­niz­ers hope to rally African Amer­i­cans to trim waist­lines by keep­ing tabs on their blood pres­sure, choles­terol lev­els and body mass in­dex and by trim­ming some of the fat out of their di­ets.

There was en­ter­tain­ment on stage — in­clud­ing rap leg­ends Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie and R&B artists Omar­ion and Kelly Price (who pledged to drop 20 pounds) — and ed­u­ca­tion off­stage.

Un­der one tent, where the line stretched out into the cold, peo­ple were hav­ing their blood pres­sure and body mass in­dex mea­sured. For more than a few, the re­sults added to their mo­ti­va­tion.

“It wasn’t good, ei­ther of them,” Gwen Trow­ell of South­east said while leav­ing the tent where she had been screened.

But that wasn’t much of a sur­prise to Trow­ell, who is 46 and works as a records as­sis­tant at a law firm. A num­ber of her health prob­lems, she said, can be traced to her weight, which is why she had al­ready de­cided to do some­thing about it.

“I’m get­ting back into a healthy life — ex­er­cise, live right, eat right,” she said, with her 4-year-old grand­son, Rashawn, a few steps ahead of her.

Un­der a nearby tent, peo­ple clus­tered around lap­tops to sign up for the 50 Mil­lion Pound Chal­lenge. At one sta­tion, a vol­un­teer helped Vi­vian Brown Penda.

“I need to be healthy, and I’m work­ing on it,” said Penda, 68, who lives in North­east. “I thought this would help me.”

Chronic health con­di­tions are all too com­mon, she said. “It’s be­cause of the way we eat.”

Penda, a re­tired fed­eral worker, hopes to change her diet and shed some of the ex­tra weight she said she’s car­ry­ing. But don’t ask her what her tar­get is. “I’m not go­ing to just say how much I need to lose,” she said. “I need to lose quite a bit.”

PHO­TOS BY NIKKI KAHN — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Veron­ica Carter of Wash­ing­ton lis­tens at the kick­off of the 50 Mil­lion Pound Chal­lenge, which fea­tured en­ter­tain­ment and health screen­ings.

Ian Smith, a physi­cian and fit­ness guru, is lead­ing the na­tional pro­gram.

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