On Jan. 23, City Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens and a host of community partners joined forces to help fight the growing obesity crisis in the Harlem community with the Hip-Hop 4 Better Health program.

The program, which is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Source magazine, Video Music Box, “The Shark” Daymond John, Fishers of Men and Celeste Santana, among others, launched at Harlem’s Wadleigh High School. The initiative uses the powerful influence of hip-hop as a vehicle to promote a healthy lifestyle and educate students about the importance of diet and exercise.

Why is this so important? The statistics on obesity are staggering. More than half of adult New Yorkers are overweight (58 percent) with 22 percent being obese. Over 43 percent of the city’s elementary school children are overweight or obese, forcing the city to adopt nutritional guidelines that include more fruits and veggies. The unhealthy habits start early. Data shows that nearly half of all Head Start kids are not at a healthy weight, with one in five kindergarten children and one in four Head Start children being obese.

Extra weight puts one at risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer, but this crisis is reversible and preventable. Modest weight loss of even 10 pounds can improve overall health and decrease risk for disease. The program will serve students in 15 schools and expand citywide in September 2013.

“Our children, especially those in poor and minority communities, are facing an epidemic like never before. We have a tendency to look the other way when it comes to the subject of obesity because losing weight is not an easy task to accomplish for any age group. I’m excited about the launch of the pilot program in my district because we finally have an innovative approach that uses hip-hop culture to fight the crisis. With support from companies like the Coca-Cola Foundation, I truly believe we finally have a real chance to win the war on obesity,” said Dickens, assistant deputy majority leader of the City Council.

The innovative program has several components and uses many tools in its “war on obesity” over an intense four-month period. This includes the Operation D.E.E.P. manual (diet, exercise, education and prevention), which is the 21st century “Health Bible” created to empower students and young adults with the knowledge to help them fight obesity. The program will use a health club membership; online testing; health chats and webinars; cell phones; health and wealth calls; social media; Video Music Box and Source magazine promotions for successful members; essay-based and other types of contests; the Children’s Health Food Book; the Fishers of Men restaurant; tickets to concerts and sports events; participation in workout videos; and a Health Education documentary with celebrities. Members will also receive a host of perks, prizes and cash incentives for their successful efforts to lose weight.

The Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council was founded in July 2001 by Charles Fisher, the former manager of LL Cool J and the Lost Boyz and co-discoverer of R. Kelly. The organization was created to help implement commitments made by record companies, artists, community leaders and elected officials at the historic 2001 Hip-Hop Summit in New York City. Participants are taught how to constructively use their time, talent and hip-hop culture to improve social, political and economic conditions in their school, home and community. Randy Fisher is the organization’s executive director. For more information about the program, visit HHSYC.org.