Tom Joyner Tunes Out Health Concerns

During the presidential campaign, John Kerry was branded a “flip-flopper” for continually taking conflicting positions on issues. It seems radio host Tom Joyner has a similar problem. On one hand, Joyner wants black America to make healthy choices. On the other hand, he’s spent the last year promoting a fast food meal many would consider unhealthy.

It begs the question: What position will Tom Joyner hold on black health in 2005?

Throughout 2004, Long John Silver’s restaurants across America have offered the “Tom Joyner Platter.” A portion of the sales of every Platter goes to The Tom Joyner Foundation, which helps students at historically black colleges and universities.

While sending underprivileged kids to college and keeping them there is great, doing so at a potential risk to Americans’ health is where Joyner’s priorities can be questioned.

Joyner’s namesake meal is a festival of fried food. It’s two battered fish filets, a chicken “plank,” a half-order of crunchy shrimp, french fries, two hushpuppies, cole slaw and a corn “cobette” (a portion of an ear).

The Long John Silver’s web site does not feature a specific nutritional breakdown of the meal, but the site’s nutritional calculator can be used to assemble all of the meal’s parts to get a good idea of what one can expect to ingest. Paired with a large Coke, the estimated meal contains over 1,600 calories. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a healthy diet contains a daily intake of between 2,000 and 2,500 calories.

So the Tom Joyner Platter can essentially be a person’s only meal of the day. Apart from the high calorie count, it contains an estimated 195 carbs and more than the recommended daily intake of fats and sodium.

Dietary habits in the black community have been a long-running concern among health experts. A 1998 U.S. Department of Agriculture report found only five percent of African-Americans exercised a “good” diet. This was echoed by a 2000 study of black Mississippi high school students that found “African-American students appear to be going in the wrong direction with unhealthy eating habits.” In a 2004 release from the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Reed Tuckson adds: “African-Americans are also less likely to believe that diet can affect their risk of disease. Many reject messages about cancer prevention because of these attitudes.”

This is where Tom Joyner appears to flip-flop. In 2002 and 2003, he worked with ABC Radio and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to promote “Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day.” Noting that African-Americans’ higher rates of cancer and heart disease and a two-to-one diabetes mortality rate compared to whites “is not the kind of leadership we need,” Joyner pleaded for people to “drag” their most stubborn loved ones and themselves to a doctor for a check-up.

How about avoiding the Tom Joyner Platter?

Hopefully, more deserving students will go to college in 2005 and beyond because of Joyner’s partnership with Long John Silver’s. But how many people will develop health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity due to eating fast food?

It’s unfair to say this restaurant and this meal are the sole contributor to America’s health problems. People make their own choices. And there is little doubt that many are making poor health choices right now.

Tom Joyner obviously understood this two years ago. Why did he then choose to promote a fast food extravaganza with dubious health benefits in 2004? He flip-flopped. He made a poor choice.

Tom Joyner doesn’t lack a conscience, but it appears his charitable priorities clashed with his other goals in this case. His passion for promoting higher education beat out his concern about health and diet. It’s not like voting to commit troops in Iraq and then not supporting them, but a questionable decision nonetheless.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.