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Spelman Partners with AJ Johnson to Tackle Obesity

Special to The Informer from NNPA | 1/23/2013, 12:25 p.m.

Obesity-related diseases are some of the leading causes of death according to the Center for Disease Control. It's a worsening problem in the U.S. and schools like Spelman College are putting their foot down. After feeling the heartbreak of losing a professor and a student to diabetes, some of the staff at the college realized there needed to be a lifestyle change in their community.

A graduate of Spelman, actress and fitness coach AJ Johnson, decided to bring a wellness campaign to the school called "21 Days to Fit." According to Johnson, the title comes from the scientific fact that it takes 21 days to embark on a new behavior.

The campaign is a part of Spelman's Wellness Revolution, which it's president, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum launched late last year after school officials decided to opt out of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA.)

"When we learned about the health disparities that African American women are facing on an increasing basis, that gave us an opportunity to take time out and to really look at how could we redirect our resources and our energies to benefit more of our 2,000 students on a health and wellness standpoint," explained Spelman director of communications, Tomika DePriest.

"So getting out of the NCAA and putting our investment in that initiative is our way to go."

Only 80 students out of those 2,000 were participating in sports and almost a million dollars was being spent on the sports program. DePriest and Johnson spoke to women who stopped playing college sports and when asked if they still play outside of school, most say they don't. Instead of focusing on the small number of participants, Spelman wants to give an opportunity for young women to get involved in activities they will carry on for a lifetime.

Director of Physical Education and Wellness for Spelman, Germaine McAuley, says there will always be intramural sports available for students. She also has had a number of conversations with sports teams and specifically with the basketball team at the beginning of their season.

"I told them, you all have not heard me talk a lot about this, the wellness initiative, but I think I need to just let you know, you all are going to be okay," McAuley said.

"I said I know you can't see it now, but later on in your lives you will all be able to say, I was a basketball player, a college basketball player, and I played maybe one additional year after college, but I wanted to learn how to play tennis. I wanted to learn how to play golf, you know, getting involved with fitness and wellness classes. You all are going to look more to that than possibly wanting to continue to play ball and many of you will want to continue to play ball recreationally. The focus is very different; understand that there is a bigger picture, a bigger vision." Johnson says the same as she urges the time is now to make this "bigger vision" a reality.