A Letter To Kevin Durant

I know that I’m a total fanatic about food as medicine. It’s my passion. I believe the gateway drug to optimal health. My hope is that I can share what I learn with anyone who will listen. Usually this ends up being my patients and clients, which is awesome. My favorite part of a visit with patients is the education piece. The way their eyes light up when they realize they can reverse Type 2 diabetes. Having them ask questions about the meds they take and how they can use food and exercise to get off of them. After a 12-hour day in my practice, I feel reinvigorated and excited that I was able to share as much as possible to help my patients take control of their health.

One evening, after one of these 12-hour shifts I was feeling great driving my normal two-mile commute home when I noticed a certain fast-food chain advertising new slushies named after my favorite basketball player, Kevin Durant. I rushed home and got on the internet to do some research. Sure enough, sugar-laden slushies that sound incredibly delicious, but totally terrible for your health endorsed by a hero of an athlete. I was frustrated and broken hearted. I work so hard to educate my patients to eat healthily and KD can come and destroy that in one fell swoop.

So just like I do, I wrote him a letter defending and advocating for my patients. The patients in communities he knows very well, as he grew up in similar neighborhoods among similar kids with big dreams of playing in the NBA.

Just like it is Kevin’s responsibility to represent and model healthy life choices, in all realms, it is also ours as healthcare professionals, parents, teachers and adults. I hope you’re encouraging and engaging your patients as much as they’ll allow and teaching them about food, sleep, stress-relief, self-care, exercise, play and community as medicine. They listen to us even if you don’t think they do. They also follow what we model, even when you don’t think they’re watching.

Dear Kevin,
Let me start by saying that you’re a true champion of a role model. Your rise from the beginning is something that I’ve watched and admired from Austin since 2006. You’re a badass basketball player and your talent launched you pretty much from high school to the pros, living out a dream of most senior athletes, especially in Texas. I’m glad you took a season to represent my alma mater, UT Austin, even if it was for a minute. I was a hardcore pro basketball fan for years, but you never made it to my teams, so I had to quit watching. Ok, that may not be entirely true.

I cried like baby watching your heartfelt MVP speech, as I’m sure many did. You are so real, transparent and kind. It was a warm dedication to those who sacrificed and lifted you up throughout your life. Your love, respect and gratitude for your momma was beautiful. She is obviously a queen of a woman and a model for all single mommas out there, but you already know that.

I clearly have a deep respect for you, your game and what you represent. But when I was driving home the other day and saw your name on slushies at a certain fast-food chain, I was shocked and saddened. I totally understand big corporate food trying to leverage a superstar for their benefit. But after coming from work where I treat patients who use fast food as their main source of nutrition, I was disheartened.

You, out of all people, should know and understand the importance of what we put in our body and performance, mental and physical. I work in underserved, low-income communities and have since high school. My patients live in food deserts, where there is little or no access to fresh, whole, healthy, unprocessed food. In food deserts, convenience stores, liquor stores and fast-food restaurants are king and this is where many of my patients go for their nutrition.

The Bogalusa heart study showed that kids as young as nine years old have markers of heart disease and diabetes. Childhood and teen obesity is a tragic public health problem and most prevalent in the communities I serve. Hispanics, African- Americans, Asians, minorities live in these food deserts and this hits close to home. I’m Hispanic and grew up in these same neighborhoods and ate a lot of the crap food that is available.

I’m a food as medicine fanatic and an advocate for bringing healthy food to schools and communities. Our schools are full of empty calorie food with little or no nutritional value. How are our kids supposed to shine without getting the nutrients and fuel they need? I see these same kiddos who get excited about a nerds slush because KD endorsed them (and yes, though they’re delicious, they’re full of sugar, which a known body and mind killer).

My patients are my life. I spend as much time with them educating and empowering them to take control of their health. It is hard to do this when their heroes are pushing sugar in a cup. The Journal of Pediatrics did a study in 2013 showing the influence of a celebrity endorser (an athlete in this case) promotes increased consumption of the product (chips in this case). It doesn’t take scientific study to realize the reality of this; it’s just common sense. Kids follow their role models.

I’m writing you because I’ve been that kid who gets excited because a certain supermodel I adore is drinking coke. I’m writing because I believe it is important for me to advocate on behalf of the communities I serve. I’m used to celebrities endorsing products, its common practice. But when one of the athletes I’ve always held in an entirely different light, one who is not only a superstar athlete, but a true team player, a standup human, and an intelligent and kind man, endorses a product that is destroying my patients health, I have to say something.

You’re not just a basketball player, you’re a role model, a hero, a superstar and you have a huge tribe that follows and imitates many of your moves. I believe when you hold a position like that it is your responsibility to promote what is healthy and right. Kudos for doing this with Kind bars. I also love that you placed ‘kind and strong’ hand in hand and believe as a role model for so many impressionable youth, this message is imperative, as compassion is necessary for health too.

Thank you for reading. Continue the magic you’re making in preseason, congratulations on your latest status in the top players list from SI, and good luck in the regular season, not that you need it.

You’re still my favorite basketball player, despite the slush incident.

Take care Kevin.

Erica Benedicto


photo from freedigitalphotos.net by hin255

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