As I reflect on Black History Month, I think about the tremendous accomplishments and contributions made by Black Americans. I think of the past, present and future to acknowledge how far we’ve come, where we are now, and the challenges ahead.
For me, one the most concerning challenges still facing Black Americans is the disproportional high rates of cancer and chronic diseases. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting half of all African American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, and that Black men and women have the highest rates of dying from cancer – something must change.
This issue hits very close to home for me. Growing up in Georgia, food was a part of my communities’ culture and heritage. Food brought people together, the dishes were delicious, however they weren’t always good for our health. This led to many of our staple dishes being loaded with excess sodium and calories.
Unfortunately, it was this approach to eating that left many of my family members ultimately fighting heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, and cancer. As jarring as this may seem, this is just one of many similar stories shared by Black Americans.
Recently in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I heard similar experiences echoed by Black community members at a listening session at Southern University. This listening session was the first in a series hosted by USDA’s Agricultural Science Center of Excellence for Nutrition and Diet for Better Health (ASCEND for Better Health) to discuss how food access, nutrition security, and diet affect health outcomes in underserved communities.
ASCEND for Better Health is a new USDA initiative that aims to reduce the burden of diet-related chronic diseases, like cancer, by enhancing precision nutrition research and sharing that research with the communities it impacts. ASCEND for Better Health also supports President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot to end cancer as we know it and is tied to the goals laid out in the White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.
As we step into National Nutrition Month tomorrow, I am hopeful for the future health and wellbeing of Black Americans thanks to initiatives like USDA’s ASCEND for Better Health. A brighter future is ahead in which healthy, nutritious foods are accessible to all and specific nutrition advice is available so everyone can live long, high-quality and prosperous lives.