Researchers raise awareness of African American male health issues


Darrell Gray II, MD, and Joshua Joseph, MD, not only walk the talk as physicians and researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, they also talk the walk.

In this case, the National African American Male Wellness Walk, the largest health initiative for African Americans in Ohio. The event raises awareness about preventable diseases among minority populations and includes a 5K walk/run, free health screenings and displays about diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It’s also a source for how to discuss healthy habits with your healthcare provider.

Gray and Joseph stress the advantages of the annual event. Gray is a gastroenterologist who specializes in the evaluation, management and prevention of diseases involving the digestive tract. Joseph is an endocrinologist and cardiovascular disease researcher who specializes in diabetes prevention.

African_American_Walk_SecondaryGray: This is the 14th annual National African American Male Wellness Walk. It started right here in Columbus, Ohio, and continues to spread to cities across the nation. A variety of screenings are offered, including blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, prostate and oral health. It’s about promoting prevention and early detection of diseases that are adversely affecting the African American male community.

Joseph: Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are two of the main causes of death among all Americans, but they’re especially worrisome if you’re an African American male. We need to do more to lower rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease within the African American community. Walks like these not only raise awareness of these deadly diseases, but get folks connected to the help they need to fight them.

Gray: This walk is extremely valuable to this community because many who attend may not engage with healthcare providers otherwise. This walk is a partnership between community members, healthcare providers and health advocates, and we need more of this to really move the needle toward decreasing premature deaths among African American males.

African_American_Wellness_Walk_Shadow_SecondaryJoseph: My research focuses on understanding risk factors for the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in racial ethnic minority groups, including African Americans. Our research has shown that improving lifestyle factors can decrease your risk for many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer. We’re working with the African American Male Wellness Walk on a community-based participatory research project to improve these lifestyle factors among African American men.

Gray: We’re passionate about this walk and enjoy engaging our communities with novel, educational experiences. One such experience is a guided tour through an inflatable colon. It’s an interactive exhibit that’s 10 feet high and 20 feet long. We use it to talk about colon health and colorectal cancer prevention and screening. It’s so important in the African American community because African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates from colon cancers compared to any other racial or ethnic group.

The good news is that colorectal cancer is largely preventable. There are things we all can do to reduce our risk for this disease, such as limiting fatty foods, red meat and processed foods, including bacon and deli meat. Instead, we should eat fruits, vegetables and foods rich in fiber. It’s also important to limit alcohol and avoid smoking.

What’s also key is getting screened. There are multiple screening tests for colorectal cancer. It’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider about the best test for you.