The colleague and friend I selected has worked with me on fundraising projects and has been a neighbor and friend of our family for several years. She is respected in the community for her advocacy for children's education in particular, but also for her support of local nonprofit organizations that raise money and awareness of the homeless, of the local teen center, and of the group that fights to protect open space from development, so it can remain as habitat for wildlife.
Describing the Situation
What I would like to have Elaine change is her diet; but especially I would like to change her attitude about -- and her indifference to -- exercise. I would like to coax her into starting slow and going for walks, with me and another friend we have in common, and get her into the consciousness that walking is enjoyable and healthy as well.
She is in her late 40s, overweight to the point of being obese, and for an African-American woman, that is problematic as far as her health is concerned. She comes from a big family and she has four children (all grown up now) but her main concern while raising those kids was not taking care of her, but rather, taking care of them. The family dinner typically was a pot roast, potatoes, gravy, and a steamed vegetable. For breakfast it was bacon or ham and fried eggs, hash browns -- very heavy in calories and in fat. These are typical of the meals she grew up with and she continued serving these meals for her own family.
My own research shows that African-American women have "the highest rates of being overweight or obese" when compared with other ethnic groups in the United States (Office of Minority Health -- OMH). In fact nearly four out of five African-American women are either overweight to some degree, or obese, OMH (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) explains. The OMH also points out that 19.6% of African-American high school girls are overweight (compared with 13.6% of Caucasian girls), and since Elaine has two girls -- one in high school and one attending a community college -- and they are overweight, this is a family issue. My strategy will be to convince Elaine that she could be a good role model for her daughters while she improves her own chances of better health.
But my strategy doesn't include lecturing her about her health necessarily, albeit her health is the issue I am planning on advocating for without being preachy or dogmatic. As background, I have learned that in addition to 3 out of 4 African-American women being obese, one in 4 African-American women who are 55 or older "has diabetes," according to womenshealth.gov, a project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Type 2 diabetes (which is the most common type of diabetes) can result in kidney failure or "amputation" (having a toe or foot removed) (womenshealth.gov).
The womenshealth.gov site notes that there are some risk factors that people cannot control, like one's age, ethnicity, or one's family history. But there are preventative measure that can be taken and this is the point of my strategy to change Elaine's habits and coax her into going for walks. "Maintain a healthy weight," is number one on the list of things that can help a person avoid diabetes; "Eat low-fat, well-balanced meals" is number two (and not at the top of my list for Elaine); number three is the key to my plan for Elaine: "Make physical activity a habit" (womenshealth.gov).
The recommendations for physical activity are more than I am hoping to get Elaine to do; for example, 2 and a half hour of "moderate-intensity aerobic activity" a week would not work for her to start off. Nor would an hour and 15 minutes of "vigorous-intensity aerobic activity" be acceptable in this case; I'm just talking about a brisk walk for maybe twenty minutes every day or every other day, at least (womenshealth.gov).
Exercise acts like a drug, according to a peer-reviewed article in the British Journal of Pharmacology; it is like a drug because it causes a "…myriad of beneficial effects for health" and in fact could be described as a "psychoactive drug" (Vina, et al., 2012).
Creating and Acting on a Plan
I am going to take Elaine to lunch on a Friday, and while we peruse the salad bar, I will invite her to take a walk around the lake with me Saturday morning. In fact on that Friday lunch date I did invite Elaine to take a walk with me because I tell her I have something to ask her that is important.
She agrees to take a walk with me. We talk about families, get caught up on what our jobs are like and generally discuss politics. We both support most of Obama's proposals (for example, raising the minimum wage, helping lower the interest rates for college student loans, and how Obamacare has helped insure eight million people who didn't have insurance). Elaine especially respects the activism that Michelle Obama has launched with reference to getting kids to eat healthier and to stay active. On the subject of the First Lady, after we finish talking about her son's sports activities, I ask her, in the spirit of Michelle Obama, would Elaine agree to take regular walks with me so she can achieve a healthier lifestyle?
Here's how the conversation went:
ME: "Elaine, I have been reading about the high percentage of African-American women who are overweight. Three out of four African-American women are quite a bit overweight. One out of four African-American women over 55 have diabetes, or are in jeopardy of becoming diabetic. Just walking every other day might help make sure you never get diabetes."
ELAINE: "Yes I do know about that, but I try to get up and move around at work, and at home it seems like I am constantly on my feet."
ME: "I am going to make a commitment to walk at least twenty minutes every day, because I am a bit overweight myself, and I'd love it if you would join me Elaine."
ELAINE: "When would I have time? I'm taking care of grandkids in the afternoon some days and keeping the house in shape takes a lot of my time."
ME: "We will agree to find the time, right after work maybe, or early in the morning before work. I would love to have you walk with me; I don't like walking alone all the time."
ELAINE: "Let me think about it. How long are the walks?"
ME: "Just twenty minutes, maybe half an hour some days when we're up for it."
How the person responded and how I could have done it differently
The next day I saw Elaine after work and I hugged her as I usually do. Without me asking her what her decision was, she knew I was hoping for a positive answer. She said she would try it for a couple weeks, but asked if I would be mad at her if she dropped out. I said of course I would not be mad. She asked if this was really because I wanted a walking partner or was I trying to get her into an exercise program? I assured her, walking is proven to be beneficial not just for physical health but it also helps the mind stay sharp.
Her husband said he didn't care if she got involved as long as the house was kept clean and dinner was ready for him when he came home. That made her say to me, "I will have to make sure what I do doesn't upset my husband," and I instantly…