Panel discusses link between obesity, cancers

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Obesity has become a major issue in America, but among African Americans it’s leading to more health-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, medical professionals revealed during a recent discussion.

Obesity has become a major issue in America, but among African Americans it’s leading to more health-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, medical professionals revealed during a recent discussion.

“We have very high rates of obesity in the African American community and African Americans as a minority group have the highest rates of obesity in the United States, Doriane C. Miller, M.D., of the University of Chicago Medical Center, said during a plenary session held as part of the June 18-22 Rainbow PUSH Convention at the Chicago Hilton hotel.

Miller explained obesity is a medical term defined as a person being 20 percent over their ideal body weight and in terms of long-term health, “being obese not only makes it harder to diagnose cancer but it’s harder to treat the cancer and the likelihood of that cancer coming back is higher if you are obese.

“Many African Americans, live in places where they can’t walk to a grocery store where they can get fresh fruits and vegetables, if anything they may have a corner store or a dollar store available where they will have very calorie-dense, high salt foods that are available for them whether it be in the form of soups or dried noodles,” she said.

Miller said the so-called food deserts contribute to overall poor health in low-income communities.

“But when we see this and we see the relationship between the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables and difficulty with people finding healthy foods in their communities, often times we see higher rates of obesity so it’s not only a question of personal behavior but it’s also a question of the environments that we live in,” she explained.

The Link between Obesity and Cancer session at the convention looked at obesity in the African American community and its linkage to other illnesses.

As moderator of the session Miller stressed, “Breast cancer is much higher (and) other types of cancer including ovarian and cervical cancer, prostate cancer certainly and so the question becomes how cancer becomes linked to higher levels of obesity.”

“We need to not only look at obesity as a question of not being able to fit into a particular pair of clothes that we want to wear, but also how its related to our long term health,” said Miller.

Ayanna Gardner, PharmD, of Walgreens Co., said she encourages her patients to get to know their pharmacists.

“Your local pharmacists is available to sit down with you and make sure that you’re not experiencing any adverse side effects to medication, to make sure that we are available to work with your doctors and also to help with co-effectiveness because if you can’t afford the medication, you won’t take it,” she said.

Gardner said the link between obesity and cancer is prevention.

“We have to teach our children about dietary lifestyle because to prevent the medication use it all starts with lifestyle and the choices that we make, but if you have to be on a medication regimen (your pharmacists) are here to service you.”

With well over 25 years in the health care field, Terry Mason, M.D., CEO of the Cook County Health Systems, said it’s not just low-income communities that are obese, 60 percent of Americans are obese, so it’s anywhere you have obesity.

“We have 1,500 people that die from cancer. Thirty percent of the cancers that all Americans get are preventable and can be decreased if we change what we eat,” said Mason.

He encourages people to eat food that’s close to its natural state.

“Eat more fruits, vegetables and beans, drink more water, decrease and limit alcohol intake, exercise and stop smoking,” he said. “(Those are) major things that will help to decrease not only cancer but obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and a numerous amount of other things.”

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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