Antronette Yancey dies at 55; advocate of short bursts of exercise


For Dr. Antronette K. Yancey, a UCLA public health professor, exercise could be fun and done in short bursts in the workplace, schools and even places of worship.

Her campaign to urge people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives led to a 2010 book about the topic — “Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time.”

Long before First Lady Michelle Obama launched a national conversation on physical fitness, Yancey was talking about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and the benefits of exercise, colleagues said.


Antronette Yancey: The headline on an earlier version of this online article mispelled the first name of Dr. Antronette Yancey as Atronette.

Yancey, known as Toni, died Tuesday at her Los Angeles home of lung cancer, according to the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She was 55 and a non-smoker.

“It was her vision that said, ‘Let’s incorporate exercise in small bursts of activity that anyone can do anywhere,’” said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, former dean of UCLA’s public health school. “She really was a leader.”

Following Yancey’s death, some Twitter followers posted that they were doing instant recesses in her honor.

Yancey, a 6-foot-2-inch former college basketball player, was also a poet and spoken word artist. In 1997, she published a book of poetry entitled “An Old Soul With a Young Spirit: Poetry in the Era of Desegregation Recovery.”

She spoke around the nation about the importance of getting out of the car and the desk chair — and how that helps improve concentration and productivity among students and employees. “What’s good for the waistline is good for the bottom line,” she said at a speech in Manhattan Beach last fall.

A well-published researcher, Yancey wrote dozens of academic articles about obesity, nutrition, physical fitness and chronic disease prevention. But she was also committed to real-life solutions to public health problems, said Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University. “It’s not just about crunching numbers,” he said. “It’s about devising practical solutions that people can really use right now. Toni really epitomized that.”

Yancey was born Nov. 1, 1957, in Kansas City, Kan., and attended Northwestern University, where she studied biochemistry and molecular biology. Following graduation, she attended medical school at Duke University and completed her residency training and master’s in public health at UCLA.

She spent five years working as a public health practitioner, as director of public health for the city of Richmond, Va., and as director of chronic disease prevention and health promotion for Los Angeles County.

At UCLA, Yancey taught at the public health school and co-directed the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity. Her co-director, Roshan Bastani, said Yancey was passionate about social justice and became a role model for minority students.

Bastani said when she started working with Yancey more than 20 years ago, very few people were talking about the importance of changing the physical environment. “People are embracing that now, but she was talking about this years and years and years ago,” she said. “She really was a pioneer.”

Yancey also served on numerous boards and commissions, including First 5 LA. Executive director Kim Belshe said Yancey was a “rock star in the public health community” and was a living embodiment of healthy eating and active living.

“She will leave a very important legacy of her work at First 5 LA in terms of her tireless advocacy for and commitment to physical fitness and good nutrition for young children,” she said.

Yancey is survived by her partner of 11 years, Darlene Edgley; their daughter, a granddaughter and a brother.

A memorial service will be held at noon on May 3 at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.