Commentary: When Living a Healthy Lifestyle Isn’t Enough

Radio host Ebony Steele talks about the importance of being tested for HIV/AIDS.

Posted: 06/26/2014 03:29 PM EDT

I’ve always been very open about the fact that taking care of my health is a priority for me.  As a breast cancer survivor, I know how important this is.  On my radio show, The Rickey Smiley Morning Show, I’ve talked about my health battle with hundreds of thousands of Americans. Although every morning I try my best to lighten people’s day with the latest celebrity gossip, I’m very serious when it comes to giving folks information they need, especially regarding health care.  

I’ve learned that every one of us has to take charge of our own health, which starts with knowing how to prevent and detect serious health issues. This Friday, June 27, is National HIV Testing Day — an important reminder to get tested and to recommit to protecting yourself from HIV infection by practicing safer sex.

As with breast cancer, you could be infected with HIV without even realizing it. In fact, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was confused because I felt fine and I had no real indication that anything was wrong. But once you know if you’re HIV-positive, you can take steps to keep yourself healthy and also to stop spreading the infection. That’s why testing is critical.   

Since I work in the entertainment industry, sometimes I’m numbed to the fact that sex is sensationalized on television and in film and music. Far too often, representations of sex gloss over the importance of knowing one’s HIV status. But for Black folks in particular, knowing our status is absolutely essential. Black Americans comprise only 14 percent of the nation’s population but make up 44 percent of new HIV infections each year. 

Meanwhile, young people account for 26 percent of new HIV infections. Since Millennials are glued to their mobile devices, use social media with gusto and devour television programming, they are immersed in a culture of sexualization. Yet the digital and entertainment industries have fallen short of adequately showing young people that they must practice safe sex. Educating people about the importance and need for HIV testing is one vital safeguard to turn back the rise in new infections. Very often I see people scared to have a serious conversation about sexual health, but the risk of contracting HIV is too high to ignore. Having candid conversations with our partners, encouraging one another to get tested and using protection are all equally important ways that we can remain knowledgeable of our status and help prevent the spread of HIV.

I survived breast cancer through early detection and treatment. As a single Black woman, I take my health status seriously. That’s why I get tested for HIV regularly. While I always encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle to prevent disease and infection, I know through my own experience that this simply isn’t enough. It takes getting tested to fully be aware of your health.

I’m grateful I can use my voice to spread knowledge to thousands of people daily. Organizations like Planned Parenthood, which provides high-quality health care and affordable HIV testing and counseling, enable you to translate your knowledge into action.

So take it from me, both a morning show co-host who appreciates jokes and fluffy gossip and a breast cancer survivor who recognizes that certain matters are serious. Get yourself tested today.  You will be glad you did. 

Ebony Steele is the co-host of both nationally syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show and Fox's Dish Nation, as well as an advocate for better health outcomes in minority communities. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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