Heavy D, whose real name is Dwight Myers, is one of the most prolific hip hop pioneers of all time. On November 8th, the world was shocked when Heavy D suddenly died at the young age of 44. Heavy D was 344 pounds at the time of his death. He had been actively working out after a period of inactivity, and was trying to lose more weight and become more fit. While the cause of his death is still inconclusive and has been linked to pneumonia, investigators are not ruling out his weight as a contributing factor.
In 2008, Heavy D lost approximately 150 pounds. Heavy D insisted that he did not lose the weight because of health concerns, but rather to open up more opportunities for his acting career. This is in direct contrast to Fat Joe, who also recently lost over 100 pounds. Fat Joe made it clear that he lost the weight for health reasons in the aftermath of the death of his best friend Big Pun due to a heart attack. Big Pun was 28 years old and a massive 698 pounds at his time of death. He had also made a concerted effort to lose weight before his untimely demise. It is interesting that Heavy D specifically did not desire to connect his health to his weight in the eyes of the media and the public.
Throughout the history of Hip Hop, there have been a number of artists that acknowledge their weight almost as a badge of honor and a way of distinguishing themselves. Some examples include Chubb Rock, The Fat Boys, Notorious B.I.G., and Rick Ross. (Like Big Pun, Darren Robinson, better known as Buffy of the Fat Boys, died at 28 years old from a fatal heart attack. He was 450 pounds at the time of his death.) It is well documented that African-Americans and Latinos tend to have more positive attitudes towards overweight and obesity than individuals of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds. While this may be beneficial to the self-esteem and quality of life of overweight people within these populations, it may also work against these populations in the prevention of life-threatening chronic illnesses. It is thereby imperative that the message that individuals may be overweight but can still be fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle is effectively communicated.
Queen Latifah is a prime example of a hip hop artist that has promoted the idea of “heavy but healthy”. In 2008, Queen Latifah became a spokesperson for Jenny Craig with the goal of losing 5-10% of her body weight, and The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease honored The Queen for her pledge to stay healthy and avoid diabetes by losing weight. She follows a mantra of exercise, eating healthily, and keeping everything in moderation. She mainly eats vegetables and lean meats and drinks a lot of water, which are major cornerstones of healthy living.
Comedian Patrice O’Neal is the latest young talent whose life was claimed by the devastating effects of stroke. At age 41, Mr. O’Neal was overweight and diabetic, which are two major risk factors for stroke. Erick Sermon of EPMD, who is also overweight, recently suffered a heart attack at age 42. Fortunately, he survived and is currently in recovery. Through Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. and our other Hip Hop initiatives, the Hip Hop Public Health Team hopes to educate future generations of hip hop artists and other leaders about the dangers of being overweight or obese and the importance of leading healthy lifestyles. Together, we can and will fight the powers that be!!!