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Reclaiming Our Health

Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellness

Illustrations by Catharine L. Love
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Reclaiming Our Health
    Book Description:

    According to the federal Office of Minority Health, African Americans "are affected by serious diseases and health conditions at far greater rates than other Americans." In fact, African Americans suffer an estimated 85,000 excess deaths every year from diseases we know how to prevent: heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In this important and accessible book, Dr. Michelle Gourdine provides African Americans with the knowledge and guidance they need to take charge of their well-being.

    Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellnessbegins with an overview of the primary health concerns facing African Americans and explains who is at greatest risk of illness. Expanding on her career and life experiences as an African American physician, Dr. Gourdine presents key insights into the ways African American culture shapes health choices-how beliefs, traditions, and values can influence eating choices, exercise habits, and even the decision to seek medical attention. She translates extensive research into practical information and presents readers with concrete steps for achieving a healthier lifestyle, as well as strategies for navigating the health-care system.

    This interactive guide with illustrations is a vital resource for every African American on how to live a healthier and more empowered life, and an indispensable handbook for health-care providers, policy makers, and others working to close the health gap among people of color. Says Gourdine, "I wrote this book to empower our community to solve our own health problems and to save our own lives."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17183-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Public Health

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    • CHAPTER ONE An American Injustice: The State of African American Health
      (pp. 3-32)

      When I was a medical student some twenty years ago, I encountered a woman I will never forget on my daily rounds. She was in her late fifties and sat, a bit uncomfortably, robed in her hospital gown as a group of my fellow medical students and I surrounded her hospital bed. After obtaining her permission, the attending physician pulled the bedsheet back to reveal the woman’s feet. One foot in particular caught our attention. It was charcoal black and somewhat shriveled. We were a bit startled but didn’t let on that we were fazed. (After all, we were future...


    • CHAPTER TWO Lose Weight and Win: Fighting Obesity
      (pp. 35-57)

      Two-thirds of all Americans are overweight or obese. But if you relied on pop culture as an accurate barometer of American society, you’d never know it. Magazines, movies, and the media say “thin is in!” Skeletal actresses prance down red carpets, revealing ribs and collarbones with every flash of the camera. Stick-thin fashion models live on diet sodas and cigarettes to achieve success in an industry where a size 4 is considered obese.

      Yet full-figured black actresses and models like Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah, and Mo’Nique have gained fame and fortune while bucking conventional trends. This apparent contradiction can be...

    • CHAPTER THREE From Soul Food to Food for the Soul: The Keys to Eating Well
      (pp. 58-80)

      In our quest to improve African American health, we place too much emphasis on pharmaceutical treatments and medical procedures, when in fact we need look no further than our own plates. More than any pill or potion, healthy eating habits have the greatest potential to help African Americans stay well. A healthy diet can reduce your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, and heart disease. In fact, 14 percent of all premature deaths have been linked to what we eat.¹ Today’s food choices today have a profound impact on tomorrow’s quality of life. And the choice couldn’t be clearer....

    • CHAPTER FOUR Make the Right Moves: How to Burn Fat and Be Fit
      (pp. 81-97)

      African Americans have a long history of physical work. The United States was built by the sweat and backbreaking labor of our ancestors. The prosperity that our nation enjoys is directly proportional to the physical exertion put forth by millions of black slaves. After emancipation, the heavily agricultural economy provided our forefathers with plenty of work requiring manual labor. Our foremothers’ housework was not assisted by power vacuums, electric washing machines, or cordless irons. More recently, we had to lift the garage door manually, get off the couch to change the television channel, and push our lawn mowers without the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Detoxify Your Life: Managing the Three Ss (Stress, Sleep, and Smoking)
      (pp. 98-113)

      My church sponsors a women’s retreat every year. It provides a wonderful opportunity to restore spiritual and earthly relationships in a relaxing setting. I was particularly looking forward to a recent retreat because I needed the time away from the demands of my job. I arrived at church early and unloaded my bags from the car. After checking in, I was given a goody bag and breakfast snack. Everyone was relaxed and looking forward to a great weekend. As I boarded the bus, I spotted one of my good friends and grabbed the empty seat next to her. While we...

    • CHAPTER SIX Change Your World: Righting the Wrongs of Social Inequity
      (pp. 114-128)

      In the previous chapters we have seen that being healthy ultimately boils down to cultural attitudes, values, and beliefs that influence how we eat, how often we move, how much we weigh, and how we handle stress. A broader set of environmental and social factors, however, affects our ability to make these decisions. In other words, the ability to eat right and exercise regularly is not simply a matter of motivation but is influenced by your zip code, your income, your education, and your race. Years of exclusion from equal opportunities in employment, education, and wealth accumulation have resulted in...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Know Your Family History
      (pp. 131-137)

      In the first two sections of this book I have described the African American health dilemma and its causes. The clear take-home message is this: as African Americans, you and I are at higher risk of getting sick. In this final section I will outline what every African American must do now to get and stay well.

      As important as it is to know our general risk of disease, it’s even more important to know your personal risk. That’s why every African American needs to know his or her family history. Your family history is an early warning system that...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Understand Your Health Insurance
      (pp. 138-149)

      To say that health care is expensive has to be the understatement of the year! Try going to the doctor for a routine checkup. And don’t even think about getting sick or going to the emergency room. If the illness doesn’t kill you, the medical bills will! Rising medical costs place a strain on working families. In fact, medical bills are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country.

      So how do you protect your health while protecting your pocketbook? Health insurance. It protects you from financial ruin due to a medical catastrophe, makes sure you can get the...

    • CHAPTER NINE Choose the Right Doctor
      (pp. 150-154)

      If you live in an area where you are fortunate enough to have a choice among several doctors or health care providers—and most of us do—it’s important to choose wisely. Choosing the right provider takes time but is one of the most important decisions you will make. A good one knows you well and understands how to keep you healthy. In fact, when choosing a provider, you should consider the same factors that you might mull over with any other relationship.

      To narrow down your choices, start with word-of-mouth recommendations from people you trust. If your friends have...

    • CHAPTER TEN Schedule a Physical Exam
      (pp. 155-164)

      When was the last time you had a physical exam? If it was within the past twelve months, congratulations! You are one of the few but proud numbers of African Americans who gets a regular physical. This chapter is for those of us who haven’t darkened the doorstep of our family doctor for some time.

      The two most common reasons I hear for not getting a checkup are “I feel fine,” and “I don’t have time.” Neither reason is valid. Many of the most common conditions affecting African Americans start silently. For example, high blood pressure and high cholesterol initially...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 165-166)

    In most respects, we black Americans today live lives that are quite different from when our ancestors first arrived in this country almost four hundred years ago. We have progressed from slaves to sharecroppers to landowners, from hired help to hiring managers, from laborers to leaders. Our march toward equality has been remarkable, our movement measurable. But our work is incomplete because of one obstinate disparity: the poor health of African Americans.

    In this book I have explored how individual, cultural, and social factors conspire to create our predicament. Ultimately, good health is a result of life-sustaining decisions about what...

    (pp. 167-180)

    You may have specific health and wellness questions that were not addressed in the body of this book. If so, this section is for you. Misinformation can only slow our progress toward improving African American health. Below are some of the questions I’m most frequently asked, along with their answers.

    1.I work the night shift. How can I eat a healthy diet?

    Shift workers often report disrupted eating habits and poorer diets. In general, food options are more limited during the night shift, with poorer quality of available meals and greater reliance on energy-dense vending-machine foods like candy, cookies,...

    (pp. 181-186)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 187-194)
    (pp. 195-200)
    (pp. 201-202)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 203-207)