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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 19, 2003 - Issue 85


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Moment of Truth - Fitness

by Geoff Hampton
credits: Fit Commerce

"The U.S. Surgeon General declared that the catastrophic state of obesity in our nation is now so severe that it actually represents a 'threat to national security' "

At a recent conference on Childhood Obesity held in sunny San Diego, Dr. Richard Carmona, The U.S. Surgeon General declared that the catastrophic state of obesity in our nation is now so severe that it actually represents a "threat to national security". If that doesn't wake people up, then nothing ever will. He went on to say that the devastating effects of obesity have now surpassed even that of smoking to become the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. This is a national crisis.

In the time of a national health crisis, profiteering becomes unconscionable and totally unacceptable. Just look at how upset everyone is with the gasoline industry. Prices are skyrocketing, yet there is no quantifiable justification for the level of increase, so everyone cries "foul", but nonetheless, prices continue to rise. This is profiteering. Taking advantage of a crisis for monetary gain.

In the health club industry this is a time for positive action and self-reflection. The health and wellness industry offers the strongest potential solution to this severe national health crisis, yet as a whole there is far too much hypocrisy (Webster's - n. assuming of a false appearance of virtue; insincerity) and excuse making.

Think about it. In this catastrophic time, the Native American, African American and Latino communities bare an astronomically disproportionate rate of affliction related to the devastating effects of obesity. To make matters worse the most economically challenged communities are experiencing the highest rate of catastrophic illness and premature death related to obesity. With this quantifiable scenario, what is the logical conclusion to be drawn from an industry that operates in a manner that is diametrically opposed to helping these underserved Americans who represent the greatest number of victims of this crisis? The logical conclusion is that the words spoken about "helping" in the crisis are disingenuous at best.

Incredible Comment Overheard Recently: "We've done enough for those people. It's time for them to do something for themselves."

Examples of the Need:

African Americans
According to the California Black Health Network ( ), "Approximately 2.3 million or 10.8% of all African Americans have diabetes, however, one-third of them do not know it. With its implications-blindness, kidney disease, amputations, heart attack and stroke, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death (sixth leading cause of death by disease) in the United States.

  • Twenty-five percent of African Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes
  • One in four African American women over 55 years of age has diabetes.
  • Mortality rates for diabetes reflect three-times greater for African Americans than Whites nationally.
  • In Central San Diego, the region with the largest number of African Americans, the rate of diabetes among African Americans was 50% greater than that of whites."

Central San Diego represents a typically underserved community. The numbers speak for themselves. So, are these individuals just "unavoidable casualties of war?" What is the excuse? Let the non-profits (known as the enemy?) take care of the problems in economically suppressed communities? Does that reflect a "call to action" by a large wealthy industry that claims to be "leading the way" in this national crisis? It looks more like, "Sorry, if you can't afford $50.00 per month then your health is your own problem. However, if you can get the money for a membership, we'll be happy to sign you up!"

Native Americans
What about the Native American community? They have a likewise disproportionate rate of affliction to Whites. How about their ability to pay for a "membership"? According to Jeffrey Lee Jackson of The Bridge Native American Training Center in Imperial Beach, CA ( ) , "Twenty percent of American Indians in San Diego County make below $5,000.00 per year." Even though their health is being destroyed, it is obvious that these families cannot afford $50.00 per month per person to belong to a health club.

According to Jeanette Diaz of The San Diego American Indian Health Center ( ), "Native Americans have a diabetes rate that is 2.8 times the overall national rate of affliction. This situation has had a devastating effect on our communities all over the country. We deal with it every day here at The Health Center and it is horrific. I believe that most Americans think that this epidemic is a faceless condition that has little impact on their hearts. This is because for the most part it's just words that they hear. We see it every day. The people we see are real. The catastrophically adverse effects that these individuals suffer cannot even be imagined by most people. Also, due to the poor economic condition of most Native American Communities, diabetes and other related conditions are really difficult to overcome."

In the Native American Community several visionaries are emerging to help. One is Pam Belgarde. Pam helped produce the exercise video series Rez Robics and Rez Robics for Couch Potato Skins. The latter features popular Native American actress Elaine Miles (Northern Exposure), comedian Drew Lacapa and Rap/Hip Hop artist Natay. The videos are available through the website and are FREE for Native Americans. Huh? Free? Yes…they're free. Additionally, the tapes do not include the typical FBI Warning but instead say, "Please make copies and give them to your friends and relatives."

So what was their budget? Did they have some huge Government Grant, or what? They did it on shoestring budget but put their hearts into the effort. Their goal is obviously not to make money off a national crisis but instead to make a positive difference. Pam is now designing an incredible children's exercise video that will be even more entertaining. That's what is needed in a national crisis.

The Latino community is likewise disproportionately afflicted and is likewise underserved. Who serves them?

Rural Communities
Rural Communities that impoverished are another casualty of this national disaster. Who serves them?

How about our nation's children?

According to the California Center For Public Health Advocacy ( ):

The Problem:
The California Center for Public Health Advocacy analyzed the 2001 California Physical Fitness Test of 5th, 7th and 9th graders. Results show that among all students in the 78th Assembly District,

  • 30.2% of children are overweight.
  • 43.8% of children are unfit.

The Effect

  • Overweight children face a greater risk of developing many health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, as well as low self-esteem, poor body image, and symptoms of depression.
  • 50% of obese adolescents become obese adults, putting them at a much higher risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes later in life.
    Physical inactivity and nutrition-related diseases are the second-leading cause of preventable death. These diseases account for 28% of preventable deaths each year, more than AIDS, violence, car crashes, alcohol and drugs combined.
  • Obesity costs California an estimated $14.2 billion a year in direct medical costs and lost productivity."
    This information is even more alarming because California is recognized as being the national leader in both adult and child wellness initiatives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( ) is just launching an incredible campaign for children in ten targeted cities. It is called VERB - It's What You Do."

The campaign is dynamic and includes a multi-media marketing campaign utilizing television and movie celebrities and encourages children to get active. The advertisements are very appealing to youth and are very well designed. At the Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego it was clear that the CDC is one of the most proactive government (or otherwise) agencies in the war against obesity.

"It's easy to talk the talk, but tough to walk the walk...when an industry claims to be 'joining the fight' against these horrific conditions and they only serve those who can afford it"

So who exactly is at the forefront of fighting the war against obesity in the segments of the population who have been literally devastated by the effects of this national disaster? The not-for-profits. You know…the "enemy".

The first logical conclusion to be drawn from the current situation is that it's easy to talk the talk, but tough to walk the walk. In other words, when an industry claims to be "joining the fight" against these horrific conditions and they only serve those who can afford it (there are a few exceptions…but that number is very small), that should be considered profiteering and there deserves to be a dramatic backlash against that type of hypocrisy.

The same industry that cleverly disguises its bottom-line vision with the sunglasses of greed spends millions of dollars to discredit and even prevent the operation of businesses that serve the very segment of the population that desperately needs help. The purpose? To make more money. The excuse? "They have an unfair advantage."

First of all, yes, there are some individual non-profits that have questionable motives. However, if some non-profits operate in a questionable manner is the solution really a "war" that non-specifically has created an illusion that all non-profits are the "enemy" the answer to the dilemma? If this were the case, then should a "war" be declared against industry groups or associations that harbor large operators who blatantly defy "codes of conduct" and currently appear as complainants at many State Attorney's General Offices and Better Business Bureaus? Furthermore, this type of unscrupulous operators has appeared in major newspapers columns around the country as the source of scandalous consumer abuse. The obvious answer would be "yes". It would be easy to build a coalition of non-profits and politicians to mount a counter-attack against hypocrisy, but meanwhile, people's lives are being devastated by a national health crisis.

The solution? Just be honest. If you don't care about the underserved, just say so. Just say, "They don't conform to our target market…sorry." Don't make sweeping grandiose statements that imply "joining the attack" on obesity and its related afflictions, because the majority of those afflicted can't afford club memberships. Just say, "We are here to help those individuals who are worthy of our assistance…those who can pay."

"The issue is health and not body beautiful."

What can those who want to help do?

Get involved! Get out there and do some community work targeting poor communities. Partner with others. The most important initial ingredient is education. It's not about opinions and it is culturally sensitive. Therefore, if you don't have a familiarity with the African American Community, The Native American Community or the Latino Community and what ethnical differences exist between your thought process and theirs then get help. Trying to preach a sermon about nutrition based in standards that apply in one community to one where the there are dramatic differences in tradition and values is a recipe for failure. Trying to convince someone whose traditionally acceptable standards of body type that their way is wrong is also a recipe for failure.

The issue is health and not body beautiful. Most of the people who need help are visually overweight. There are clubs whose staff members don't even want overweight people in the facilities. If that is true for your facility then what is the point of even starting down the road.

How about your members? Are they going to make obese people feel uncomfortable? Obese people are generally in the precontemplative state, so even venturing out for help is a big step. Then, if they do venture out to seek help and are made to feel uncomfortable, failure will be guaranteed.


Imagine this…What if the biggest perpetrator of customer abuse initiates a national weight loss campaign. Hmmm…21st Century Oxymoron?

This same lack of sincerity permeates the corporate wellness epidemic as well. However, this is a mutually exclusive responsibility avoidance. It seems that in many large corporations the title Human Resource Professional is in danger of becoming a 21st Century oxymoron. The very individuals who are charged with employee welfare are so indifferent (and in many cases sedentary themselves) that when a business approaches them and offers them a "low price membership" thinly veiled as an initiative designed to improve employee health, they jump at the ease of implementation and avoidance of work on their part. The same thing is true for far too many club operators. The simple ease of "found money" is attractive. Then truth is that letting an independent company make money for a structured discount membership sale will only enable the independent company to make money simply rooted from laziness on the part of the participating club and business. This is not something that will impact sedentary employees as it is allegedly designed to do.

This is a war. You know…"A threat to national security" (U. S. Surgeon General, January 6, 2003, San Diego, CA). The time is here to make a positive difference for everyone afflicted by this disaster. You can make a difference…but it's not all about profit.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

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