Up Next

Get Lifted

Rev. Run and Justine Simmons want children to develop healthy eating habits

The two are visiting schools and educating fans about risk factors for diabetes

It took the fourth- and fifth-graders of P.S. 104 The Bays Water School in Queens, New York, 15 minutes to calm down after rap legend Joseph Simmons, known as Rev. Run, and his wife, reality television star Justine Simmons, entered the school’s bright auditorium Oct. 12.

The Simmonses were there to discuss healthy eating habits, diabetes and its risk factors. The two are spokespeople for Novo Nordisk, the global health care company.

Novo Nordisk ambassadors Rev. Run (center) and Justine Simmons (right) look on as a student at P.S. 104 The Bays Water School in Far Rockaway, New York, performs in a “Health is Wealth” rap battle on Oct. 12, reinforcing the importance of healthy lifestyle choices.

Photo by Bryan Anselm/Novo Nordisk, Inc via AP Images

Even though none of the students had been born when Rev. Run founded the iconic rap group Run-D.M.C. in 1981, that didn’t stop him and Justine Simmons from connecting with their young audience. He, too, grew up as a kid in Queens. And the school was already doing a great job of teaching healthy lifestyles to the students, he said. “We were simply reinforcing the work the school was already doing, so the kids were hip, and they were fantastic.”

Justine Simmons said that, unfortunately, healthy eating and diabetes weren’t discussed when she was growing up.

“I wish that when I was younger, that being healthy was talked about,” she told the students. “No one was talking about it. I encourage you all to talk about being healthy with your families.”

The gathering culminated with students participating in an epic “Health is Wealth” rap battle judged by the couple. Students performed original songs about leading healthy lives, and one student in particular caught the rapping reverend’s attention.

“What stuck out the most for me was that one young lady started rapping in Spanish. I thought that was very unique and very bold,” Rev. Run said. “She went from rapping in Spanish to rapping in English. I think that took a lot, just the fact that she … decided to come out like, ‘Here’s how I want to represent where I’m from, and then bring it back to you guys.’ It was not only bold, but it was … good.”

One way to develop healthy habits is to add exercise, one thing Rev. Run believes has diminished among children today.

“When we were younger, you would wake up, go outside and start our day,” he said. “I would always be out playing basketball until my father went looking for me.

“I think it’s different for kids nowadays. They have video games and their laptops, so it’s important to remind kids to get moving no matter what they do.”

The two represent Novo Nordisk’s Ask.Screen.Know. program, which advocates early screenings for Type 2 diabetes, and urges people to find out their risks. The two also have close connections to the disease. Both Rev. Run’s and Justine Simmons’ fathers were diagnosed with diabetes, and Justine Simmons’ father died of complications from it.

“It runs in both of our families,” Justine Simmons said, “so we are both at risk as well and we have to be very mindful of that. Now we know and have the knowledge, so we’re trying to spread it.”

“I took it as a very spiritual thing,” Rev. Run added. “It was time for me to be concerned about my health. I was over 45 years old and African-American, both of those factors putting me at a higher risk for diabetes. So for me, connecting with Novo Nordisk got me focused.”

He and Justine opened their lives to the world when they launched the six-season reality show Run’s House in October 2005 on MTV. Asked how their children (Vanessa, Angela, JoJo, Diggy, Russy and Miley) have been able to avoid negative publicity for all these years, Rev. Run and Justine Simmons responded that it’s just the way they were brought up.

“I can’t say that anybody in my family is perfect,” Rev. Run said, “but the Bible says to lead a child in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it. … So as a parent, I’ve tried to do just that.”

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and his wife are now starring in All About the Washingtons, a Netflix sitcom portraying the couple as fictionalized versions of themselves. It launched on Aug. 10.

Rev. Run adds that it is important for him to support Novo Nordisk because much of his audience has a heightened risk of developing the disease.

“A lot of my fans are like me and have a higher risk for diabetes,” he said. “I want them to not just think about the music and the show when they think of me, but I want them to think about their health and continue to strive to be healthy.”

Rev. Run and Justine Simmons have changed their lifestyle since becoming more mindful of their eating habits.

“We started doing a lot of things differently,” Justine said. “We started having a lot of fruit around. It helps when you may want some chips or something to be able to grab a banana or some grapes. I try to leave grapes around either on the counter or in the refrigerator so they’re easy to get, and everybody eats them because they’re out. We also try to do vegetables that we like, and doing more baking instead of frying.”

One of their favorite meals is chicken, but they’ve learned to prepare the dish in a healthier manner. “We know how to make chicken crispy with no oil,” Rev. Run said.

“We do, we make the best non-fried chicken wings ever, with no oil or batter, and Russy, Diggy and everyone loves it,” Justine Simmons said.

On top of wanting to take his health more seriously, Rev. Run said that his decision to change his eating habits was faith-based.

“I’ve been a pescatarian for a little while now,” he said. “I feel like I heard God telling me not to eat beef, so I’ve been staying away from all meat. Anything dealing with the sea, I can do: lots of fish, shrimp, scallops, salmon, etc. I might incorporate chicken back in at some point.

“It’s important for me to use my influence to encourage others to be healthy. Using Run-D.M.C., the television shows I have with my wife and children and all the fame that has followed my career and made me successful, I figured [I have] a great platform to use to teach people about their risk factors.”