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It Takes a Circle

October 21st, 2011 - By Therese Madden

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The Prime Time Sister Circles use the power of the group to get healthy. Together these groups of African American women use this social setting to share techniques to manage stress, improve nutrition, and get moving. And, have fun!


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African American women have the highest rates of obesity in the United States. One program created by two friends is working to change this. “My name is Dr. Gayle Catherine Porter and I am 66-years-old. My name is Marilyn Hughes Gatson and I am 72-years-old, I’m a physician, Dr. Porter is a clinical psychologist, so we deal with mind body and spirit.”

Prime Time Sister Circles

These women have dedicated much of their careers to helping people live healthier lives, especially in minority and underserved communities. In recent years, Dr. Gatson and Dr. Porter have made a switch from treating individual patients to bringing women together in groups. These gatherings, are called Prime Time Sister Circles, Dr. Porter explains. “Prime Time Sister circles are support groups of African American women between the ages of 40 to 75 that are designed to empower women and to change our behaviors.” Groups focus on stress management, nutrition, and increasing physical activity. Circles are free of charge and confidential. Betty Jackson is part of a circle in Philadelphia. It’s only the 4th week in, but she’s already lost 18 pounds. Ms. Jackson, who is diabetic, says it’s the camaraderie that has helped her, even more than the information. “They saying what I already knew, you know sometime you have a hard head? Hard head make a soft bottom.”

Ms. Jackson is the primary caregiver for her three grandchildren and doesn’t usually make time for herself, this is another goal of the Circles. “I get to go out every Thursday for two hours and I go ‘ahh’ and we discuss things that are happening in other households. It’s kinda like o.k. I’m not the only one going through that.” Even in this short time, Ms. Jackson feels close to the other women in the group, close enough that one of the reasons she sticks to her diet is because she doesn’t want to disappointment them. “So, I don’t want to go and look in their face every week knowing that I ate a big hunk of cake and some ice cream on the side. So, I’m being accountable for my actions and it works.”

Doctor Porter says the reason they chose women of this age for the circle is because of their roles in the family and community. “What we are pushing is, if you don’t change mothers and the grandmothers and the aunts who buy the food and who prepare the food you are never going to be able to change what the 6-year-old eats. A 6-year-old doesn’t walk into a grocery store and buy food. So, we think there has to be a more holistic approach to doing it, and you cannot avoid including these pivotal people in the live of our community.”

And judging from Ms. Jackson this theory works. In addition to changing the way she eats, she says her grandchildren’s meals have gotten a whole lot healthier.

Photo Credit: The Prime Time Sister Circles

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