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  1. News Release

  2. May 8, 2024

New Jersey Man Reverses Hypertension With Diet, Will Bike More Than 1,000 Miles to Bring Attention to Food as Medicine for Black Americans

Montclair, N.J.— At 9 a.m. on May 21, New Jersey native and health and nutrition enthusiast Kirk Charles, age 61, will embark on a more than 1,000 mile bike trip beginning at the Columbus Circle entrance of Central Park (59th Street and Broadway) in New York City. He plans to complete the journey in Chicago on June 5. Charles’ goal is to raise awareness about the importance of nutrition, in particular healthful plant-based nutrition, in reversing chronic diseases among Black Americans.

A certified personal trainer and former columnist for Men’s Health magazine, Charles has always regularly exercised and practiced good nutrition, or so he thought. He has eaten a primarily plant-based diet for more than three decades but in 2017 was diagnosed with hypertension, or high blood pressure. “I realized then that I had started eating a lot of junk food,” Charles says. To address his health concerns, he switched to a whole food, plant-based diet. After a knee injury in 2022, he shifted from running to cycling and joined the Major Taylor Cycling Club of New Jersey.

“When I received the diagnosis, my biggest concern became keeping my blood pressure down, my heart ticking, and eating more plant-based whole foods and regularly biking has kept my blood pressure in check, and I have not had to take medication,” he says.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African American adults are 60% more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, 20% more likely to die from heart disease, 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, and 50% more likely to have a stroke, and have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers.

“These health disparities are a result of unfair disadvantages against the Black community, including a lack of access to medical coverage and medical care, poorer treatment within the medical system, lack of representation in clinical trials, and a lack of resources, opportunity, and access to healthy food, among others,” says Vanita Rahman, MD, medical director at the Physicians Committee.

The Journal of the American Heart Association published a review co-authored by Kim Williams Sr., MD—who was the first African American president of the American College of Cardiology and began eating a whole food, plant-based diet in 2003 for his heart health—that specifically looked at the underlying health disparities that contribute to heart disease in the United States. The review summarizes research behind diet, one of the top modifiable risk factors for heart disease, and the disproportionate effects of racial, economic, and social disparities on diet quality.

Another study looked at the dietary habits of 592 African American participants from the Adventist Health Study-2 and categorized them into three eating patterns: vegetarian/vegan, pesco-vegetarian, and nonvegetarian. Those who consumed a vegetarian/vegan diet had fewer heart disease risk factors, including lower blood pressure, half the risk of diabetes, and a 44% reduced risk for hypertension. Vegetarians and vegans were also 43% less likely to be obese, compared with nonvegetarians.

“If I can do this, anyone can,” Charles says. “I talk about this all the time, but I thought it might be more effective to show people rather than talk about it.” He decided on the bike tour because he was determined to do something big to make a statement, to other Black Americans in particular, about the importance of good nutrition and exercise.

To prepare, he has been taking regular four- to six-hour bike rides. Charles will travel 80 to 100 miles per day and will pass through Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, and Indianapolis and Forest City, Indiana before finishing in Chicago on June 5.

Follow Charles on Instagram at @kirkcharles, on Strava. He will post updates during his trip at Bike America.

Media Contact

Leslie Raabe



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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