Saturday, March 17, 2012

It Must Be True I Saw it on TV: Health Myths and Facts

Healthy solutions have become more accessible today because of the internet and the popularity of many doctors on TV. Americans are more aware of obesity, heart disease, and other important conditions because of national TV doctors. However, in recent years I have seen an increase in patients coming to me with bizarre questions that they've heard from watching the latest doctor show, such as: Can I flush out my kidneys by drinking water? Can I get arthritis from cracking my knuckles? What can I eat to stop breaking out?

Recently, some health headlines have raised ratings, but they have also raised questions about foods and drinks that we've enjoyed for a lifetime, and criticized the use of every day household products. But before you throw away all the products in your house it's important to decipher fact from fiction. As a physician who sees patients every day, I wanted to provide perspective on some hot button issues in the headlines lately that I've been asked about by patients.

1. Is there a secret diet, formula or supplement to lose weight?
No, there's actually no secret to weight loss. There is no magic bullet, special diet or fancy formula to take off pounds. I, along with many health experts, believe that weight gain is the result of an imbalance of energy- too many calories consumed versus those expended. As a doctor in Louisiana, which has an adult obesity rate of 31%, it is my personal responsibility to encourage people to eat a balanced diet and exercise. As "Tha Hip Hop Doc" I use music and medicine to encourage our youth to make healthy choices and embrace active lifestyles. I know there are a lot of factors that influence weight gain such as genetics, stress, and lack of education, but we need to emphasize the importance of portion control, healthy choices, and regular physical activity to control weight. A "secret" weapon won't do this for us.

2. Is juice safe to drink?
Yes. Orange juice and apple juice are completely safe. As a father of a beautiful six-year-old daughter, I understand the importance of knowing what's in your kids' foods and drinks. But, recently some TV docs have caused panic, alleging that your morning glass contains everything from arsenic to fungicide. As my daughter would say "eew!" But, it is important to remember that while these claims make for dramatic television, these shows can also distort the truth and sometimes cause unnecessary fear. After all, our food supply is strictly regulated by the FDA; since when have TV doctors trumped government regulation?
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests finished juice and produce for contaminants and when foods are unsafe they issue alerts or recalls. The FDA has said that juice is safe, and people can keep drinking it. For kids like my daughter, a glass of juice is one more option to get fruit, including vitamin C, folic acid and potassium into her day.

3. Are my supplements spiked? Should I stop taking my daily vitamins?
Supplements are safe. For millions of Americans vitamin supplements help them get adequate amounts of vitamin nutrients they need, especially if they are not eating a balanced diet. For example, many people don't get enough vitamin D - and while spending more time in the sun is optimal, most Americans need to be indoors for their jobs. Therefore, vitamin D supplements offer a great way for people to achieve the levels they need. Furthermore, like foods and beverages, these supplements are highly regulated by the FDA and are safe to consume.

4. Does diet soda make you fat?
No, diet soda does not make you fat. I know overweight and obesity are huge problems, but again it comes down to calorie balance. There are tools, such as no-sugar foods and drinks, to help people enjoy their lives and manage their health, including diet soda. I haven't seen a single study that has shown a direct link between diet soda consumption and weight gain. Furthermore, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that diet soda consumption effected the accumulation of excess fat similar to water.

As a doctor, it's my personal responsibility to give the best medical advice that I can. My patients trust me, and it is my duty to warn them that general medical counsel broadcasted to millions of people may not be right for any one individual. Instead of going to your TV for medical advice, I urge people to bring concerns directly to their doctor, who can present patients with the best personalized options. If you have concerns, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your physician will know your personal history and tailor advice that is best for you.

Dr. Rani .G Whitfield is a board certified family physician, currently in private practice in Baton Rouge, LA. Dr. Whitfield, is also known as Tha Hip Hop Doc, using hip-hop music as an avenue to educate teens and young adults on health issues. He is also the health consultant for several organizations including The Coca-Cola Company, The Grio, and medical director for the National Association of Free Clinics, who provide to uninsured and under insured patients.

An Open Letter to Parents: Leave A Legacy of Health Not Just Wealth

The current state of our economy has raised questions about whether today's kids will be better or worse off than their parents. But, as a physician and father, I question whether they will be healthy enough to even live longer than their parents. Today, more physicians than ever are treating children for "adult" diseases like diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease. So, we should be equally concerned about the future of their health as we are about their wealth.

This Black History Month and Heart Health Month, I decided to write an open letter to African American parents, urging you to start a family legacy of good health. The future of our children depends on it.

It's no secret that heart disease, obesity and diabetes are taking a toll on our families and our communities at a rate higher than any other ethnic group in the country. And it is mostly preventable. As a father to a six-year-old, I know "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work when kids are watching and mimicking your every move. Therefore, as parents, we have to take the first steps toward building a healthy, active lifestyle for ourselves with hopes that our kids will "do as we do."

Contrary to what you might think, taking those steps doesn't mean cutting out the things you enjoy - doing that can actually lead to weight gain. To be honest, I'm not giving up my favorite foods and beverages, and neither should you. It's really about making better decisions. If you use two sticks of butter in your famous peach cobbler, use one or a healthier butter substitute. If you use salt pork in collard greens, try smoked turkey instead. Or, if you love soda, try a low- or no-calorie version or drink from a smaller cup.

Another problem I often see in my practice is the idea that kids need to "clean their plate." This was once a good rule, but now that we are feeding our children adult-sized portions, it can be dangerous. With my daughter, I allow her to decide when she's full - clean plate or not - because kids are good at saying when they've had enough. So, next time you sit down to dinner, put a little less on your child's plate and listen when they tell you they're full. It might also help you rethink the amount on your plate, too.

Lastly, family time shouldn't only be TV time. Get up and be active together. If your kids are jumping around with their Wii game, join them. If they're playing tag in the backyard, be "it." One thing I love to do with my daughter is dance because it's good exercise and lets us be silly together. Leaving a legacy of good health doesn't have to be serious and boring, so have fun with it.

This isn't a letter of "shoulda, coulda, wouldas" because I understand food is a cultural and satisfying experience. Rather, it is a challenge for you to take inventory of your family's health habits and make small adjustments that could bring about big changes. Studies show that just a small weight loss can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

So this month and year round I'm taking a pledge, and I hope you will too: I pledge to leave my daughter with better health habits than the generation before her. I will leave her with less risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. I will be active for her and with her. And I will make decisions that set her on the path to good health for the rest of her life.

Good luck creating your family's good health legacy for this generation and the next.

Dr. Rani G. Whitfield, known best as "Tha Hip Hop Doc," is a board certified family physician with a private practice in Baton Rouge. He uses hip-hop music to educate teens and young adults on health issues and is a consultant for several organizations including The Coca-Cola Company. He can be reached at

Also Published on: The New People Newspaper Online

Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolve Now to Make to Make Wellness a Goal for a New Year and Beyond

Knowing the Facts Can Bring in a Healthy New Year and a Healthier Generation

The New Year is almost upon us and we continue into a succession of holidays where food is the centerpiece of the gatherings we have with our families. Yet, before you sit down to the dinner table with thoughts of second and third servings of your favorite macaroni and cheese, now is the time to take a moment to contemplate the impact to your overall health and lives.

Today, many Americans are suffering from diseases and conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, which can be aggravated due to poor food choices. To make these gatherings nourishing to your spirit as well as your body, it is time to face the facts about our food and beverage consumption in a new light for a new year and beyond.

In the United States, more than 72 million Americans are obese, a 1 percent increase and an additional 2.4 million people, over the last two years.1 Other recent studies reveal 17 million Americans have diabetes.2 Nearly four million African Americans that are 20 years or older suffer from this disease. Unfortunately, African Americans bear the burden of diabetes and others conditions at higher rates of incidence than any other ethnic population.3

Based on the statistics above, it is essential for African Americans to understand these diseases, its causes, but more importantly how to take preventative measures. The holidays are a good time to start. This season, temptations will come at holiday office parties, Christmas dinners, Kwanzaa celebrations and New Year's Eve festivities. If you go in with a plan, you can maintain control and adhere to your nutrition objectives. At social gatherings or as you sit down to your table daily:

> Choose small portions and limit your favorite carbohydrates such as pasta, breads and dessert.
> Enjoy more vegetables and high protein meats.
> Try baking foods instead of frying and use spices liberally to deepen the flavor.
> Enjoy mini-sized cans of your favorite drinks to manage your calorie intake. You can also choose zero calorie beverages to enjoy with your meals.

Despite all of our busy lives, it's time to stop making excuses and make exercise a priority. It is critical to maintain a healthy weight and incorporate physical activity into your everyday routine. Weight maintenance is about burning the calories we put into our bodies. I recommend:

> Adults and children get in 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can be broken down into 15-minute increments throughout the day.
> Bike riding, dancing, working in the yard, cleaning the house with music and playing interactive video games such as the Wii are all forms of physical activity that can be fun and help us burn calories.

The holidays are wonderful times to gather with friends and family; making smart choices allows us to share in the true spirit of the holidays and still enjoy the foods and beverages we love. When making your new year's resolutions, resolve to: communicate more regularly with your doctor; choose healthy foods and beverages that fit your lifestyle; and stay active so that you can enjoy many more events with your loved ones.

Rani Whitfield, MD aka "Tha Hip Hop Doc"

Live Positively Ambassador and Consultant to the Food and Beverage Industry

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Vital Signs, Adult Obesity.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Agenda for Public Health Action: A National Public Health Initiative on Diabetes and Women's Health.
3. American Diabetes Association, Living with Diabetes, African Americans & Complications,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

World AIDS Day

Maybe if its ominous presence didn’t live in my own back yard infecting my neighbors, I would be oblivious to its existence. And maybe, just maybe, since no one in my family has been recently diagnosed with this disease, it would just go away and I’ll be asked to only write articles around World AIDS Day each year as if it were just a distant memory. Maybe not! The rates of HIV/AIDS in Louisiana, my back yard, are astounding and disheartening. According to the latest data from the Centers of Disease Control, the state of Louisiana ranks fourth highest in number of AIDS cases. Baton Rouge, the capitol city, ranks second and New Orleans ranks third in AIDS cases among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. This disease, however, is global and estimates from the UNAIDS 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update state that approximately 31.3 million adults and 2.1 million children were living with HIV at the end of 2008. In a 2009 study published in The Lancet, about half of the people who acquire HIV become infected before they turn 25 years of age. This same study reiterates how far reaching its presence has become; as world wide, AIDS is the second most common cause of death among 20-24 year olds. The most frustrating thing about this disease is that it is preventable. Knowing your status by getting tested, practicing safe sex, being educated, and accessing care for those who are infected are of the utmost importance in slowing the spread of this illness.

The World AIDS Day theme for 2010 is “Universal Access and Human Rights”. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate as it affects men, women, and children of all races, creeds, colors, and sexual preferences. An unfortunate commentary about this disease is that once diagnosed, your options for treatment and thus your life span are also dependent upon where you live. In developing countries, the numbers are staggering. Consider that an estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than any other country in the world. In 2009 alone, an estimated 310,000 South Africans died of AIDS, many of which were children. This high number of death due to AIDS occurs despite efforts to increase awareness and raise monies to provide care and medicines to those infected. The reality is that we (the human family) have fallen short and many suffer and die each day because of lack of access to care. In developing countries, the impact of death reaches beyond the sad news of loss of life, but that children are raising children with a significant loss of financial support to purchase food or medicines to sustain their lives.

When World AIDS Day was founded in December of 1988, its main purpose was to increase awareness, raise funds, educate those who knew little of the disease, and to fight the prejudices and stigma placed
upon the disease. In 2010, the medical world has developed some significant changes that impact the quality of life one may experience when diagnosed with HIV/AIDS; but in countries where there is a severe lack of economic support, access to preventative measures, conflict between family values and medical best practices, HIV testing, and education the theme must be more than words, it must become action.

Action begins with each of us. I encourage those who have risk factors for HIV/AIDS to get tested. Wear your red ribbon not only on World AIDS Day, but whenever you feel the need to raise awareness. Remember that everyday there are deaths from HIV/AIDS that can be prevented by simply having a larger, louder voice in making sure that our brothers and sisters that share this world with us are getting the access and care to continue to live another day.

You may also visit me on Facebook or on my website at:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Free Health Clinic Provides Much Needed Care

The Washington Convention Center in downtown DC was turned into a massive doctor's office providing care for the uninsured.

Watch Video:

From Boys to Men: Talks to Have with Young Brothers

Date: Monday, August 02, 2010, 5:41 am
By: Rani G. Whitfield, M.D., Special to

Monday mornings are rough for me. No matter how relaxing the weekend was, I’m up very early, and after hospital rounds, I head to the parish prison to provide health care to inmates. East Baton Rouge Parish Prison houses 1,500 men and women. Unfortunately, approximately 90 percent of the male population looks like me - African American men ranging from ages 16 to 80-plus.

Seeds become plants when nurtured; boys become men in the same way. But in today’s world, the chips seem to be stacked against young African-American boys, and the transition to manhood can be turbulent. High dropout rates, teen pregnancy, towering incarceration rates, low wages with scant economic opportunities, single parent households and high rates of HIV, among other health issues, seem to be plaguing young brothers. This is the plight of many African-American men, and it is a situation that is all too familiar to those who work in this country’s education, public health and criminal justice systems.

Shockingly, African-American children are nearly nine times more likely to have at least one parent incarcerated at some point in their life than their Caucasian counterparts. Today, poorly educated black men are becoming ever more detached from the mainstream of society. This is a problem we can no longer ignore. But where does the education of our youth begin: In the home, schools, churches or prisons?

Today, 63 percent of African-American households are headed by a single parent, with an overwhelming majority of them being single mothers. One out of every four of these women who are employed hold managerial or professional jobs, and almost half of these women have attended college. Despite the strong family values and support these hard working and successful mothers give, many feel that without a strong male figure in the lives of these young men, success can still be somewhat evasive.

Whether sensitive conversations should happen between fathers and sons or single mothers and sons rather than an older role model depends on the child’s situation. Family values, the environment, closeness between mother and/or father and son, etc, all play a role.
Generally, most of the psychological literature supports the notion that mature men are best equipped to help boys become men, so fathers should prepare themselves to discuss sensitive issues such as sex, interacting with ladies generally, avoiding drugs and alcohol and so forth. In cases where the father is not available, mothers would do well to have positive men, such as brothers, uncles, grandfathers, or godfathers provide consistent guidance to their sons.

Consistency is important in the delivery of developmental guidance. Also, good fathers from stable families, who are friends, are viable stand-ins for guiding young brothers, so there are many creative ways to address young brothers’ healthy development through positive male guidance with or without fathers in the home.

Since it’s “back-to-school" time, fathers or men who are providing guidance to young brothers are advised to be knowledgeable about boys’ stages of development so that the guidance provided is effective. In that vein, regardless of age, honesty, reciprocity, and respect should be instilled in young brothers from infancy to high school graduation and beyond.

- Honesty: Telling the truth goes toward establishing trustworthiness or dependability.

- Reciprocity: Working to help the family and other people and in return receiving earned rewards and benefits.

- Respect: Behaving courteously with peers, as well as acting obediently when interacting with adults generally and other important people, such as teachers, religious and civic officials.

These core values should be taught based upon the child’s ability to understand or in psychological terms – the child’s stage of development. For example, a two-year-old is only concerned with the consequences of his actions and has not developed intellectually to the point of reason, so instilling honesty may come through “time-outs,” whereby the child is isolated or is not allowed to participate with others as a consequence of lying.

The point is establishing these core values early because they have far-reaching implications for children in terms of health, well-being, and effective social functioning. If they are reinforced at each stage of development, from primary grades to high school graduation and beyond, children generally - and young brothers specifically - are more likely to succeed against the challenges of growing up in a world where, among other things, HIV-AIDS, drugs, sexual pressures, violence and fast foods predominate.

The beginning of the school year is just around the corner, and it is time to have these sensitive conversations - conversations with a purpose that can steer these young boys and men in the right direction. The start of the school year can be overwhelming and also fun, but it all begins at home. Although some discussions will be sensitive in nature, it is best to come from the parent/guardian rather than the bully at the school yard or an older peer with misinformation. These discussions will change depending on the age of the student, but some will never change, like the importance of proper hygiene, nutrition and rest; limiting the amount of time spent watching television and talking/texting on the phone; reading more and spending less idle computer surfing without parental supervision.

The transition from elementary school to middle school is a pivotal time for young men. New friends, teachers, a different bus route and a new environment can be very intimidating. These eager-to-learn sixth graders are no longer the “big kids on the block” and are taking a back seat to the slightly more mature seventh and eighth graders. Not only will they be introduced to a tougher curriculum, but they will also face challenges with their developing bodies.

Puberty for young men starts between the ages of nine to 14, as compared to young women, who start slightly earlier at ages eight to 13. Questions about sex and the body are sometimes uncomfortable between a growing boy and his mother; therefore, single mothers should seek input from their male pediatrician/family doctor. If the health care provider is not male, they should find a male role model, such as an uncle, dad or grandfather that they trust to deliver healthy messages about the body and sexuality.

Single mothers also play a vital role in teaching young men respect for other women. It is always important to remind them that as a woman, certain things such as profanity, rude behavior and name-calling is inacceptable, as they would not appreciate these gestures said or done to them. The same respect mothers demand is required for the young ladies their sons share the classroom with. These messages are reinforced by the male role model who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

Middle school is also a great time to lay down household rules. Chores and homework must be completed in a timely fashion or privileges should be suspended. This creates structure and gives each young man a sense of responsibility.

Limiting time watching television and supervised Internet browsing is also very important during these developmental years. In January of 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a study about the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media. It was estimated that eight to 18 year olds devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (More than 53 hours a week). Because they have the ability to “media multitask” (watch TV, browse on the Internet, talk on cell phones and listen to MP3 players), they can actually pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those seven hours and 38 minutes. African-American and Hispanic children spent far more time with media than Caucasian children. Setting boundaries on usage, getting involved in online projects and knowing what Internet sites these young men visit are of the utmost importance. Creating healthy habits early will carry over into high school.

An emphasis on good nutrition is also essential at this time as these young men are still growing. Studies show that breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day for these youngsters, providing them with nutrients to help them get started. Students who eat a healthy breakfast, especially those low in processed sugar (i.e., high fructose corn syrup) perform better in school, pay more attention and score higher on tests. I often recommend a multivitamin to students to supplement what they may be missing from their meals and school lunch programs. In general, avoiding soda machines, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise is a must for these growing bodies.

Testosterone levels are running high, and the young ladies are calling. Questions about driving privileges, dating, curfews and spending money are commonplace during this evolution.
The transition to high school is a critical juncture for these young men and can be a trying time for single parents as they try to juggle the adolescent’s social life with their own day-to-day responsibilities. If you factor in sports and after school activities, it is very easy to see how a single parent can become stressed out. This stage of life for both the student and the parent requires patience, understanding and the realization that every single request by the maturing young man cannot be met.

Statistically, ninth graders run the greatest risk of failing and not being promoted to the 10th grade. Increased autonomy, decreased parental involvement and increased peer influence at this stage all play a part. This is also the age where exposure to risk taking and illegal activities becomes more prevalent, and the potential for drug use is of major concern. Students with weak academic preparation and low self esteem are in jeopardy of succumbing to these negative behaviors and not advancing to the higher grades. Once this happens, the likelihood of them graduating from high school significantly decreases.

If single moms are without male role models and are unable to steer their sons in the right direction, mentoring programs (such as Big Buddy or 100 Black Men of America), local fraternal organizations and sports programs (boxing, basketball, football or track clubs) are great resources. Researching these programs and the individuals who run them is important, but they can be very effective if you find the right combination.

One of the most pressing issues in the African-American community is the leading causes of death among young African-American men. For all men ages 15-29 in the United States, regardless of race or ethnicity, the top three leading causes of death are unintentional injury, suicide and homicide. For African-American men of this same age group, homicide is the leading cause of death. It's three times the rate for Hispanic men, the population with the next highest homicide death rate in the country.
It is so important for young African-American men to have not only self respect, but also respect for others. Homicide and suicide are permanent answers to temporary problems. Even with all the technology in the world, once a life is gone, it can never be brought back. Young men must understand the consequences of their actions, and hearing these messages from parents or individuals who have turned their lives from crime can be life changing. Some mothers in my practice have requested tours of the prison for their sons who have gotten off track in hopes that it may deter them from future mishaps.

It is our duty and responsibility as parents/guardians to provide our children with the best possible opportunity to succeed. Seeking out mentors in the community will provide them with guidance and structure and give them the tools to be successful. Urban Prep Academies in Chicago and Capitol Prep in Connecticut have found that with longer school days, uniforms, discipline, integrity, structure and role models, students can excel academically.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.” We expect and should teach our young men at all stages to behave and work well, be respectful and polite, listen and act sensibly, and to have pride in themselves. Surrounding them with positive role models can influence their thinking and help shape their futures. The high rates of incarceration, death, unemployment and low graduation rates impact our communities and our economy. Solutions and assistance from the government are important and needed, but we must assist single mothers as mentors, step-fathers, big brothers, and community leaders to ensure the success of these blossoming and flowering young men.

It takes a village to raise a child. I’m willing! Are you?


Dr. Rani Whitfield is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based family medical practitioner. Popularly known as "Tha Hip Hop Doc" for his youth-friendly, healthy messages, Dr. Whitfield is a graduate of Sothern University and the Meharry Medical College.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hartford Teens Participate in Second Annual SADD Conference

"I tell 'em life ain't forever, but they say--"
"I tell 'em put down the drugs, but they say--"
"I tell 'em get an education, but they say--"
"Whatever! W-W-Whatever, W-W-Whatever!" echoed through Hartford's Lyceum during Connecticut's second annual Students Against Destructive Decisions (
SADD) youth leadership conference, on Monday.

Dr. Rani Whitfield "Tha Hip Hop Doc" or "
H2D" uses hip hop culture to further his message on health while bringing positivity to the hip hop genre by promoting healthy lifestyles.

Callie_Hagemeister.jpg[Caption: "He was funny and at first it seemed contradicting. You wouldn't think a doctor would rap, but he did," said 10th grader Callie Hagemeister (center) from Westbrook's SADD chapter. Photo by Colleen Kopp.]

Tha Hip Hop Doc's talk was part of an all-day line-up starting with a talk by Lieutenant Anthony Cuozzo on the importance of leadership. Projects designing 'inner heroes' followed and a lesson in understanding alcohol marketing tactics. The teenagers also participated in a discussion about conflict resolution and understanding cultural differences. They were also given a talk about how the brain develops, along with other break-out groups and workshops.

The workshop on stereotypes and cultural differences had an impact on Lisa DeCrescente, an 11th grader from Hamden High School. She said the students sat in two rows facing each other and were encouraged to ask deep questions and break past first impressions.

"It made us dig deeper and get to know people instead of just how they look," De Crescente said. "It was eye-opening as we were able to get past the appearance and the surface."

For Sarah Boiano, an 8th grader from FOCUS, a group of teenagers from Ashford, Mansfield and Willington, the alcohol marketing talk and what she learned about malt beverages had a large impact on her.

"We learned that those kind of drinks should be considered 'distilled spirits' and we hope to get them out of grocery stores," Boiano said.

Boiano's adviser Jen O'Neill said FOCUS, which is under a tri-town coalition against underage drinking, is a small group with big ideas. She plans to help FOCUS raise more awareness about what kind of alcohol is sold in grocery stores.

Ninety-three teenagers from 22 SADD chapters and youth groups in Connecticut attended the conference.

Governor's Prevention Partnership supports SADD in its mission 'to keep Connecticut's youth safe, successful and drug-free.' Each chapter holds their own fundraisers and events as well.

Projects.jpg[Caption: Conference projects included designing ideal leaders - with a "Nose to sniff out trouble." "Brain and strong mind to think independently about the decisions we make." "Hands to help those in need." Photo by Colleen Kopp.]

Catherine LeVasseur, program manager for the Governor's Prevention Partnership and SADD State Coordinator, has been involved with SADD since she was 13.

"I've been doing this for half my life," LeVasseur said, "helping promote healthy decisions, and hoping to change the climate in these kids' schools. I'm 36 26 now, and it still feels amazing."

After his varied talk on health with free-style rapping and a hip hop love song mixed throughout, Tha Hip Hop Doc said, "If the kids take home one thing, I want them to know that health is their most important possession. If I wake up in the morning and all I have is my health, I know I'm okay."

As Deborah Stewart, director of Youth Development Training and Resource Center in New Haven, walked to her car after the conference, she said: "Parents are ignoring or dismissing underage drinking, thinking it's a teenager's rite of passage. Now as we learn that the brain is still developing into the mid-to-late 20's and the allure of drinking is magnified by technology, we face new challenges as parents. And we cannot just say 'whatever.'"