Inspiring ACSM Leaders: Antronette (Toni) Yancey, M.D.

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Inspiring ACSM Leaders: Antronette (Toni) Yancey, M.D.

Joe Sherlock, ACSM Copywriter |  Feb. 15, 2023

ACSM inspiring leaders series Toni YanceyAntronette (Toni) Yancey, M.D., was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1957. She studied biochemistry and molecular biology at Northwestern University before attending Duke University for her M.D. and going on to pursue a long and successful career in public health and public health education. Dr. Yancey received a posthumous ACSM Citation Award in 2014. 

In her letter in support of Dr. Yancey’s nomination for the award, ACSM Past President NiCole Keith, wrote, “Dr. Yancey was certainly a luminary whose influence will continue to span decades. She was, to my knowledge, the only African American female physical activity researcher who also was a full professor at her academic institution. She mentored a core group of us to continue to strive for leadership opportunities that would put ourselves in positions to be decision makers to help make the world a better place — just as she did. Her creative inspiration spread through us and beyond us.” 

While serving as the director of public health for the city of Richmond, Virginia, Dr. Yancey championed a campaign called Rock! Richmond to encourage physical activity throughout the city. Then as director of chronic disease prevention and health promotion for Los Angeles County, she initiated LA Liftoff, which encouraged overweight and sedentary workers to take a 10-minute exercise break based on low-impact dance. The program later evolved into the concept of “Instant Recess,” which Dr. Yancey ultimately outlined in her 2010 book Instant Recess: Building a Nation 10 Minutes at a Time, focused on the nation’s health and fitness, particularly obesity and sedentary behavior, and the policies she laid out in it have been adopted at least 37 cities. Instant Recess earned Dr. Yancey a number of awards, in particular the 2012 Pioneering Innovation Award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Dr. Yancey, a professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, was a co-founder of the school’s UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity, which promotes social justice and whose mission “focuses on eliminating disparities in incidence, prevalence, mortality and burden of disease experienced by disadvantaged and underserved populations.” 

Dr. Yancey’s passions extended far beyond her work, and she lived an interesting and multifaceted life: She was variously a D1 basketball player at Northwestern, a poet and a fashion model. And among other awards, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Black Women Physicians; the California State Assembly 47th District's Woman of the Year honor; an Award for Excellence from the American Public Health Association; a WNBA Los Angeles Sparks Lisa Leslie Inspiring Women Award; a Women Who Dared Award from the California Black Women’s Health Project; a Champions of Health Professions Diversity Award from the California Wellness Foundation; a Joint Health Promotion Award from the California Public Health Association; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition; and a Health Education Achievement and Leadership Award from the Henry Ford Health System. 

Dr. Yancey passed away in 2013 at the age of 55 after a fight with lung cancer, but her legacy lives on in the communities she served and in the careers and achievements of those she mentored and inspired.