Attacking Obesity in Minority Communities

According to the Overweight and Obesity Among Latino Youth report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), nearly 39 percent of Hispanic youth ages two to 19 are obese Additionally, according to the organization’s Overweight and Obesity Among African American Youths report, 35.2 percent of Black non-Hispanic youth are considered overweight or obese. As a result, these young individuals are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.

With this in mind, I recently interviewed Jackie Berg, Founder & Publisher, TheWEIGH, a recently launched publication focused on providing information and conversations to healthier living with particular emphasis on the prevention of childhood obesity particularly as it relates to minorities. Berg has more than 25 years of experience in corporate and entrepreneurial environments and has led childhood obesity prevention-related efforts for 15 years at various organizations and recently celebrated her fourth year of publication of an award-winning monthly urban health magazine focused on obesity and obesity-related conditions.

She is also recognized and respected among political, business and community leaders in Michigan and recently launched TheWEIGH in conjunction with a diverse team of publishers from across Metro Detroit. Its intended purpose is to elevate awareness and conversations in the key areaof childhood obesity.

I interviewed Berg recently for her thoughts on her new publication, childhood obesity and why its important to have a dialogue on health issues affecting so many lives across Michigan and beyond.

Lee: You have recently increased your efforts in the area of community health and in particularly, childhood obesity. Why is this important to you?

Berg: I’m concerned about our kids’ futures. Many parents don’t view obesity as a life threatening condition, yet obesity-related health issues are already impacting our families in very negative ways. In the past, type 2 diabetes was normally unheard of in children. Disease researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predict that one in three children born in the United States in 2000 will likely develop type 2 diabetes sometime in their lifetime unless they get more exercise and improve their diets. The prediction was especially serious for Latino children. Without changes in diet and exercise, their odds of developing diabetes as they grow older is nearly 50 percent.

Researchers at UCLA report that obese children are more likely to report a greater tendency toward emotional and behavioral problems, higher rates of grade repetition, missed school days and other school problems, ADHD, conduct disorder, depression, learning disabilities, developmental delays, asthma, allergies, headaches, ear infections, bone, joint and muscle problems. I want to help reverse these statistics by raising community awareness and action.

The minority community faces disproportionate health risks for many conditions, so it only makes sense that we support expanded health communications efforts to better address disparities. As important, you cannot support community health without elevating (community) economic health. That’s why we’ve included coverage of neighborhood development efforts in our products. Evidence of the growing importance of these health issues was reflected by the support of thought of senior level leaders including Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan Dept. of Community Health Dir. Nick Lyon and Mayor Mike Duggan, who wrote the forewords in our launch issue.

Lee: What are key factors driving the obesity epidemic, not just with youth, but the population at-large?

Berg: Individual behaviors and environmental factors are the leading contributors. We need to dramatically improve our nutrition and activity levels to stem obesity rates, regardless age.

Lee: As part of generating awareness, you, in conjunction with other minority-owned publishers, launched a new publication focused on childhood obesity. Please share your thoughts.

Berg: Minority publishers feel a moral imperative to address this issue, which disproportionately impact the communities we serve. That’s why more than 14 minority newspaper and digital publishers have already joined together to support this effort aimed at improving community health. And interest continues to grow… we expect to announce another media partner by month end. Collectively, we want to engage multicultural unity on shared issues of importance.

Lee: Why do you think the time is right to launch a new product–particularly, when many publications are fighting to survive? And what role will online distribution have?

Berg: Collectively, our publishers alliance now represents the largest minority voice in (print) media statewide. Our communications and distribution model provides unique opportunities to help foster growth and related economic opportunities critical to our respective survival. Our combined minority newspaper circulation exceeds 90,000 units monthly. And our digital partners reach more than 350,000 unique visitors monthly.

We project that our combined reach will exceed 500,000 by mid-year. Our publishing partners’ voice and influence are expected to grow in concert with elevated readership. Although many print products are struggling to survive, well-placed niche publications continue to grow. Our partners see unique new business opportunities with this model.

Lee: Ultimately, what are your stated mission and goals for TheWEIGH and how will it be distributed?

Berg: Simply put: we want to create healthier pathways for families. And, as important, intend to help reverse the growing obesity epidemic.

Our products are distributed through 14 minority newspaper and digital publications statewide including: Arab American Chamber, ARISE Detroit!, Chaldean News, CPSA Courier, Daily Detroit, Detroit Driven, Detroit Regional News Hub, El Vocero Hispano, Jackson Blazer, Grand Rapids Times, Lansing Chronicle, Latino Press, Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) and Prep Star.