M.D.-author Toni Yancey

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UCLA professor of health services and author of Instant Recess explains why what’s good for the waistline is good for the bottom line.

Dr. Toni Yancey is professor of health services in UCLA's School of Public Health. Returning to academia after working in public health in Richmond, VA and L.A. County, her primary research interests include adolescent health. She was also the lead author of a study that blames a "sedentary culture" for the obesity problem in the U.S. Yancey is a basketball player, former European model and published poet/spoken word artist and received her M.D. from Duke. Her new book, Instant Recess, focuses on the state of American fitness.


Tavis: Dr. Toni Yancey is the co-director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity and a professor at the UCLA School of Public Health. Her forthcoming book is called Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time. Dr. Yancey, good to have you back.
Toni Yancey: Delighted to be with you as always, Tavis.
Tavis: As serious a problem as this is, how do we fix it ten minutes at a time?
Yancey: Well, that’s exactly the subject of the book. My argument is that most of the ways we’ve been trying to fix it just mean we’re going too fast, too far, too fast. Ten minutes of physical activity is something that just about any organization can fit into its normal routine either during meetings or at a certain time of the day. Schools can fit it in. Either they transition kids between things like lunch, you know, when they’re trying to move from lunch to, you know, getting the kids or whatever.
It’s a simple solution, but it’s something that can help to get us to the point where we have the political will to do the hard things like mass transit reform and, you know, getting us to the point that we actually prefer the individual sport, the sports for families and so forth, versus the pro sports in our tax policy.
Tavis: So tell me how that would work because I want to be clear about what you’re saying. I hear you loud and clear. So me and all the guys I’m looking at right now who are on the stage, guys and gals on my stage floor and those in the booth who are watching me right now, we’re supposed to stop what we’re doing for ten minutes during our day and get our exercise on right here in the workplace?
Yancey: Absolutely. Turn on the music.
Tavis: Right.
Yancey: We’ve created moves that are based on either ethnic dance or sports. We’ve even created some moves in our new break that are based on what part of the state you live in. So we got the San Diego Surf. We got the Surgeon General doing it at our UCLA commencement. So the point is, it can be done literally anywhere, any time, by anybody, in any attire.
Tavis: The value for us physically, I get. The value for the organization which would be reason that they would adjust their workday is what?
Yancey: Increased productivity.
Tavis: Uh-huh.
Yancey: Okay, so for instance, the L.L. Bean plan in Maine that I profile in the book stopped their assembly lines for five minutes at a time three times a day and they were able to demonstrate that they got 100 percent return on investment. So in other words, they can measure productivity in hard terms like bags, belts and shoes that come off the line.
Tavis: So you’re telling me, if I give these guys a ten-minute break and make them work out, I’ll get more out of them?
Yancey: Yes.
Tavis: Wow, okay (laughter).
Yancey: And you decrease injuries, decrease injury rates, ultimately savings in healthcare costs, less leave taken.
Tavis: I’ve been in a lot of conversations of late on both TV and radio for a lot of different reasons about education, obviously a very important issue, and you are an educator. In this education debate, there’s always this question I think that some people don’t want to wrestle with, which is why we expect our schools – that is to say, while we expect teachers to teach kids stuff that their parents ought to be teaching them. So we expect teachers to be everything in the classroom, disciplinarian, etc., etc., etc.
I raise that to ask why it is that corporate America should be asked, expected, demanded, cajoled, you tell me, into getting their workers to do stuff that they ought to be doing for themselves if they care about their health?
Yancey: Well, here it is. We’re all paying for it, so the question is just do we want to perseverate in thinking that people should do it on their own when, you know, most of the public, 95 percent of adults, are voting with their feet and they’re not doing it. Similarly with kids, I mean, we’ve created this situation with kids so that, in schools, they’re not getting the P.E. They’re not getting the recess that they used to get.
By injecting ten minutes into the school day, we can assist teachers – and I come from a long line of teachers. We can assist teachers in meeting the expectations that we’d like them to make in terms of test scores, you know, better academic performance, better discipline. So, I mean, regardless of the organizational setting – take churches, okay? This is something big in our communities. We know this.
Tavis: Absolutely.
Yancey: Well, at F.A.M.E., they actually did ten minutes – not ten, but they did a few minutes of activity in each of their three services when they kicked off their “Let’s Move” 5th District campaign and people loved it. So if we get churches engaged, that’s again something that we can, you know, hey, do you want to have your parishioners so they can tithe more, so they can invest more in the volunteer activities that we need to maintain our churches?
Tavis: The part that I never understand and you said it twice now in this conversation, so we know that we have a major, major, major childhood obesity problem in this country. You’ve been on this program before and we’ve talked about it. We got a major problem with kids being overweight.
At the same time, to your point, we have schools that are cutting physical education programs. That seems so stuck on stupid to me. I don’t get how we have kids who we can visually see they’re overweight. Too many school programs cutting the physical activity. What gives here? I don’t understand that.
Yancey: Well, I think this goes back to a fundamental issue. We don’t value physical activity. We see P.E. teachers as sort of less than others. It was easy to cut. It was easy to say, oh, that’s superfluous like music and art and all that. Those are some of the things that keep kids going to school and yet they’ve cut them out.
Here’s another issue. This has to do with boys, okay? So we know that boys tend to be more active learners. If you look at what’s happened over the last 20 or 30 years since we started cutting out all the P.E., the boys have started to do even worse. In colleges right now, we got 70-30 ratios of young women to young men.
I mean, I can’t say for sure. I’m just looking to do this research and collaboration with some educators, but you have to say wait a minute. Like you said, why are these kids struggling so much? And whoever thought that physical education and physical activity wasn’t a key part of how kids learn? It’s necessary for brain development.
Tavis: Why doesn’t this issue – your focus and your commitment to it notwithstanding, why doesn’t this issue get more traction politically?
Yancey: Well, I think that it’s been always viewed in that, you know, individual responsibility versus collective kind of thing. Again, I think that we need to look at it a little bit differently. For instance, we can frame this as an entitlement so there’s an emerging field of inactivity physiology, meaning even if you got 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous, you still might have these prolonged periods of sitting that are messing up your metabolism.
So in fact, if we coop people up at their desks for eight hours, even with the two little breaks they get for the bathrooms or phones or whatever, we’re still doing them a disservice. Those of us in high-level positions, we can get up. We can walk around. We can go to the gym first. But why should somebody who’s punching a time clock have to sit there and not get their opportunity to be healthy?
Tavis: So finally, then, what’s the target audience for the book? Is the American workforce, decision makers in that workforce, and what’s the message you want them to get from the text?
Yancey: The target audience is decision makers across the board. So it definitely is corporations and corporate decision makers. It’s school decision makers, principals and school boards. And the message I want them to get is it’s in your organizational best interest to incorporate ten minutes of physical activity at least each day as a part of the normal organizational routine. What’s good for the waistline is in fact good for the bottom line.
Tavis: The book is called Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time. It’s written by Dr. Toni Yancey and, all my guys on the floor, get ready. You guys ready? Nobody said anything (laughter). We got ten minutes. We’re gonna do it in just a second here. Toni, good to have you on the program.
Yancey: Great to be here with you.
Tavis: Thanks for the book.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm