T. Colin Campbell among speakers at vegan festival

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I had a chat recently with T. Colin Campbell, the noted professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell. He’s 88, spry and sharp-minded. He may be an anomaly at that age. But he doesn’t have to be.

“My father had a heart attack when he was 62 and a fatal heart attack when he was 70,” recalled Campbell, who grew up on a farm just west of Leesburg, Va. “He wasn’t overweight. He just ate the wrong foods.” His uncle died of a stroke at age 73. Same cause, he says: a diet heavy in animal fats and proteins.

Campbell has written several books on nutrition, including “The China Study,” and more than 300 research papers. He attributes his good health to moderate exercise and a plant-based, whole-food diet. “Knock on wood,” he adds.

On Sunday, Campbell will join a group of physicians, environmentalists and athletes at Fairfax Veg Fest in Herndon, Va., a free outdoor showcase of the benefits of a plant-based, whole-food diet.

I will eat healthier — and this time I mean it

Neal Barnard, an adjunct professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in the District.

James Wilks — a former professional mixed martial artist who was featured in “The Game Changers,” the documentary about the impact of a plant-based, whole-food diet — will talk about how becoming a vegan helped him prevail in Spike TV’s Ultimate Fighter cage boxing championship.

Gene Baur, called “the conscience of the food movement” by Time magazine, has raised awareness around the world about how our food system abuses animals and destroys the environment.

Cardiologist Baxter Montgomery has used plant-based, whole-food diets to reduce high blood pressure and hypertension and reverse Type 2 diabetes in his patients.

Jim Loomis, an advocate for plant-based, whole-food diets, has served as medical internist for the St. Louis Rams football team and St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Gwyn Whittaker, owner of the GreenFare Organic Cafe in Herndon, is a founder of Veg Fest, which goes from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Northwest Federal Credit Union parking lot at 200 Spring St.

“It’s not just for vegans but for the plant-curious people who might have questions about why the plant-based, whole-food movement is going so strong and why this is the path for the future,” Whittaker said.

It’s a family event, with live music. Bring your pets. There will also be adoptable dogs.

But the main focus is healthy eating.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently noted that few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day. And the consequences of that failure are stark.

The percentage of prediabetic adolescents — those on the cusp of developing Type 2 diabetes — has more than doubled, from 12 percent in 1999 to 28 percent in 2018, according to the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

According to the CDC, in 2017 and 2018, obesity prevalence was 13.4 percent among 2-to-5-year-olds, 20.3 percent among 6-to-11-year-olds, and 21.2 percent among 12-to-19-year-olds. About 26 percent of Hispanic children are obese, 24 percent of Black children, 16 percent of White children and 9 percent of Asian children.

Overweight children are more likely to become obese adults. They will develop heart disease and diabetes even as children.

Those hit hardest by the coronavirus tend to also be suffering from other comorbidities that accrued from obesity.

A plant-based, whole-food diet would help them better manage their weight. And live longer. Not just survive but also thrive.

Get vaccinated and start eating better. It could save your life.

For decades, studies have shown the benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables — including lower blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and possible help in preventing certain cancers.

A lot of people apparently didn’t get the message. Veg Fest is just one way for researchers and others to make the case in person.

Barnard is one of the nation’s foremost researchers on the use of plant-based, whole-food diets to reverse chronic diseases.

“There have been significant breakthroughs in how diets prevent and reverse certain diseases, and we need to get this information to the people who need it,” Barnard said. “We need to take these scientific findings and give them to the public in a format that is fun and approachable, because your average person is not reading the New England Journal of Medicine.”

Certainly not those millions of 12-to-19-year-olds with prediabetes.

“It’s not just that we can improve our health,” Barnard said. “It’s that we finally have hope that our next generations will not inherit the health problems that we inherited from the generation that came before us.”

But somehow, this generation must be armed with the knowledge of what their choices are: good health through fruits and vegetables or health concerns that could turn into lifelong issues?

They can die young of preventable diseases — or be as vigorous in their senior years as a T. Colin Campbell.

At Veg Fest, the choice will be life.

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