Health & Medicine

Merlene Davis: Obesity-fighting program needs community support

The late Dr. Antronette "Toni" Yancey created "Instant Recess."
The late Dr. Antronette "Toni" Yancey created "Instant Recess."

For more than 14 years, Dr. Antronette "Toni" Yancey tried to get America to move more.

Yancey created a program called "Instant Recess" in which workers in corporate America and people in churches, neighborhoods and schools take about three 10-minute exercise breaks during the day.

Last fall, Yancey and other public health researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles were awarded a $20 million, five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take their program throughout the country.

In Lexington, UCLA chose Ahava Center for Spiritual Living to lead the project.

"UCLA hand-picked us," said Louise Tallen, who was to be the director of the program in town. "Then the CDC said no."

Tallen said the CDC refused them because it wants proof that a variety of community partners from the education, corporate, community sectors are on board. Before re-submitting her proposal, she needs to submit demographics detailing the amount of physical activity and healthy eating habits of the targeted demographics: racial and ethnic minorities in Lexington.

The problem is, the CDC notified her Friday, and the proposal must be returned by May 31.

"Usually, you have four to six months to present a grant proposal," Tallen said. She said she has gone from taking baby steps in contacting leaders who have inroads into the minority community to an all-out race to the finish line.

But the program is worth it, she said.

Yancey, a former athlete, model and poet, co-founded the Fielding School's UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity and was committed to ensuring that research was related to community programs that would change lives.

Research revealed that exercising for 30 minutes five days a week, and sitting for the rest of the day either in front of a TV or at work, didn't have the effect needed to ward off chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

What worked better was 10 minutes of aerobic bouts of exercise through the day.

"Today, lack of movement is a fundamental part of dying," Yancey said. "We move as human beings when we have to move. We've got to make it obligatory."

Short bouts of physical activity, what she called "Instant Recess," results in a shrinking waistline, lower blood pressure and decreased percentage of body fat. The exercise also suppresses appetite and increases our desire for fruits, vegetables and other water-bearing foods and beverages.

None of that means much unless people get up off their duffs. And that's where the grant comes in.

Yancey was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months before the grant was awarded last year. She died in April at age 55, one of a growing number of young non-smokers to succumb to that disease. Tallen doesn't want Yancey's vision to die as well.

Yancey wrote a book, Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time, and there are videos on of players on the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks team creating exercises.

In the office, the result has been that employees take fewer sick days. Yancey sold the recess breaks as, "What is good for the waistline is good for the bottom line."

Ten to 15 organizations that can get started quickly in their communities will be selected to reduce chronic-disease disparities experienced by African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Americans, according to the proposal.

"This is a strength-based project," she said in a YouTube video promoting the program. "You work with people's strengths and find out what is working right, and improve on that. We want to tap into existing programs."

If you have a program that targets obesity in minority neighborhoods, Tallen hopes to partner with you to make Lexington one of a national network of community-based organizations that tries to change social or cultural norms.

"Instant Recess is a powerful and important tool that can change lives and communities," she said. "I will do my best to get this started."

To help

If you know of an organization, agency or company that can help bring Instant Recess, an obesity-fighting exercise program and lifestyle change, to Lexington, call Louise Tallen at (562) 833-7993, or email her at