Cosby urges good eating choices at health forum

Bill Cosby (right) and Dr. Alvin Poussaint talk about community health at a WHYY event Monday.
Bill Cosby (right) and Dr. Alvin Poussaint talk about community health at a WHYY event Monday. (RYAN S. GREENBERG / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 26, 2012

THESE DAYS, Fat Albert wouldn't fly on TV.

Bill Cosby said as much on Monday at a forum held to promote good eating habits in poor communities, noting that his classic cartoon originated as an "empowering image" of an overweight boy with a speech impediment who was still "understood by his community."

Now, presenting a "lean and mean Albert" wouldn't work, either, he said at WHYY's Old City studio during "A Conversation on Community Health," sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and the Atlantic magazine.

Cosby said improving health education would encourage better food choices, and he questioned the amount of sugar, protein and carbohydrates found in lunches at underfunded schools, saying the meals are "not nourishing."

"Leave the bread alone," he said, stressing the importance of balanced meals. "Leave it alone."

Philadelphia could use the help. Forty percent of the city's children and two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight. The number of Philadelphians with chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure is significantly higher than the national average.

Improving health patterns will be gradual, but the need for change is immediate, said Dr. Brian McDonough, a panelist. Social media could be an effective and cheap medium for health outreach, McDonough said.

"You can do a lot with tweets and Facebook," he said. "Someone that might feel isolated in West Philadelphia can be communicating with someone in New Jersey, and it doesn't cost them anything."

Panelists and attendees emphasized that improved collaboration among health organizations, schools, governments and community members would help them achieve their similar goals.

"The biggest challenge I have is getting people on the same page," said Anna Hargrove, a West Philly community organizer who attended the event. She works to make schools and organizations see "the importance of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle."

"We're still not focusing on the problem, and that's basically education," Hargrove said.

Children should learn about nutrition at the preschool age so they can say, "Mommy, don't eat that," said Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard University psychiatry professor. Poussaint even suggested teaching students about child development so that once they become parents, they can raise healthy, well-adjusted kids.

"If we train our children," Hargrove said, "then they will grow up with that very important idea and it makes a difference in what we eat."


Contact Sara Khan at 215-854-5713 or khans@phillynews.com.

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