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Amazing Grace: Antronette Yancey


By Kristine Breese

Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Q. Your heroes are the ancient Egyptian physician, architect and poet Imhotep and Dr. Lester Breslow, your 91-year-old mentor and office mate at the School of Public Health. Why do they inspire you?

A. Imhotep excelled in so many disciplines. I named my publishing company after him because he was a jack-of-all-trades in all the trades I love. So often people think that they can only do one thing. This is especially true in medicine and science, where people think that if you work in those fields, you can't possibly be creative or artistic. But heck, Imhotep disproved that back in 2600 B.C., and I am proud to carry on that tradition. As for Dr. Breslow, he's often called the father of public health. He recognized that a day was going to come when we'd be living longer and that would bring its own health challenges, including learning how to prevent disease and live better. That's what excites me.

Q. But just because we know how to live better, it doesn't mean we're doing it, right?

A. Exactly. Did you realize that 41 percent of adults in L.A. County are completely sedentary, which means they get less than 10 minutes of exercise each week? Everyone has this image of people in L.A. as out jogging and Rollerblading on the beach, but the fact is that's a small slice of the population.

Q. To address that, you've started something called the Center to Eliminate Health Disparities.

A. Yes, I am one of the founding co-directors. You'll notice we didn't call it the Center to Study Health Disparities; we chose the word "eliminate" on purpose. The work we're doing is called "intervention research" because we're not just interested in what's happening and why — we intend to change it. With health disparities, we already know what many of the issues are. For poor and minority populations, there aren't always safe places to exercise in their neighborhoods. And when it comes to nutrition, there are often few healthy choices, little produce on the shelves, and more fast food restaurants than supermarkets.

Q. So, how do you get people to do the right thing?

A. We've got to get people moving, even if it is a little bit, because we all know that the hardest part of any new endeavor is starting. Have you ever been to a party that is mostly black or Latino? There's always music and always dancing. We have to harness that love of movement and put it to work for these people who need it most. I've created a 10-minute workout that can be done anywhere by anyone. And it's most fun with a big group. I think all our leaders should be wearing a pedometer, so they can really "walk the walk" as they say, and not just pontificate about it.