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Project takes diets to heart for minorities

The American Heart Association has teamed with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in launching a pilot project in Tampa to help older black people eat healthier. Aimed at people ages 50 and older, the program consists of one-time, two-hour lectures, discussions and cooking lessons. Fatty foods and excess sodium are played down; exercise and balanced diets are promoted.

The seminar is free.

Begun in Tampa last month, the pilot project is being conducted in six other metropolitan areas this year: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Jackson, Miss., Atchison, Kan., and Shreveport, La. Last year, several cities also participated.

Called "Eating for Healthy Tomorrows," the program stems from a 1985 report by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that black people were much more likely to have heart disease than white people.

A big cause for the difference: Black people generally had poorer diets than whites, the report said.

In turn, AARP and the heart association have banded together for the project that both groups plan to start nationwide.

"Our goal is to promote awareness and understanding," said Nonata Garcia of AARP in Washington.

"We know the program is too short to get them (older blacks) to modify their behavior. We want to motivate them to adopt a healthy lifestyle."

"Not much has been done to educate minorities, and blacks in particular, as to how to improve their health," said Bonnie Warren, of the heart association.

Carolyn Collins, a dietitian at Tampa General Hospital, and Shirley McCullough, a food service manager at Padgett's Nursing Home in Tampa, have volunteered to conduct Tampa's sessions.

They also are seeking churches, businesses and community organizations to sponsor the meetings.

Originally, nine classes were scheduled, Collins said. Now, the organizers want to hold 18.

"I've seen too many individuals in the hospital for heart disease see how poor their diets were and then say that if they had only known, they would have changed their eating habits," she said. "They just didn't know."

Tampa's first seminar was last month at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church. Further sessions are planned at Tampa churches and senior centers.

The Tampa classes show people how to cut back fat and salt and thus decrease the chances of developing heart disease. Participants also learn how to read food labels to determine exactly what they're eating.

A cooking demonstration shows how to prepare standard dishes, such as fried chicken, by using less fat and salt.

Seminars end with self-help questionnaires that increase students' awareness of how unbalanced their diets are.