Why Do Black Women Have the Highest Rates of Obesity in the U.S.?

Some experts believe that poverty and lack of access to healthy foods are not the only factors in why African-American women are disproportionately large.

Posted: 07/29/2011 03:08 PM EDT
Filed Under obesity, abuse

A hot topic at the National Medical Association (NMA) 2011 Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly, a conference dedicated to medicine and African-American health, was the obesity epidemic among Black women. In a panel presented on July 26, top experts discussed a slew of factors as to why a majority of African-American women are obese and overweight.

 

And what they talked about was eye-opening and nuanced, especially the possible link between obesity and sexual abuse. Medscape reported:

 

Sexual abuse might play a role in the development of obesity in young Black women, the panelists agreed. Current estimates indicate that about 1 in 4 young women have experienced physical or verbal abuse in dating situations, with Back and other minority women suffering the highest risk. "If you look at recurring patterns in teenagers, many girls have had sexual or physical abuse and have never talked about it. Instead of dealing with the issue, they eat," explained Janet Taylor, MD, a psychiatrist at Harlem Hospital in New York City.

 

Girls might subconsciously see weight gain as protection against this abuse. "Once girls start to develop, they become targets of sexual comments and weight may be a shield," Dr. Taylor said.

 

Economics and income were also discussed and contrary to popular belief, some of the panelists state that income level is not as much of a game changer as people believe it is in terms of the Black obesity rate.

 

Medscape added:

 

Different forces might be at play in overweight and obese Black women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD, and Gayle K. Porter, PsyD, founders of the Gaston & Porter Health Improvement Center in Potomac, Maryland, recently surveyed 351 Black women 40 to 75 years of age who signed up for a 12-week health intervention called Prime Time Sister Circles. Less than 10 percent of the women in the program reported being of normal weight — the rest were overweight, obese or extremely obese. Nearly half of the women qualified as obese. Almost 70 percent reported high blood pressure.

 

Although the group represented a wide range of education (from high school to postgraduate) and income levels, obesity rates did not differ significantly with these factors.

 

Dr. Gaston said the survey "explodes the misconceptions" about the root causes of obesity in the Black community. "We can't say that the obesity problem is because Black people are poor," she told Medscape Medical News.

 

"We are the only group where money and education are not protective factors [against obesity]," Dr. Porter added.

 

Other factors discussed in detail were past failed diets, unrealistic goals, cravings, feeling deprived, poor understanding of nutrition, depression and emotional eating, cost of healthy food and family dynamics/sabotage. They also attempted to dispel the myth that Black women in general just love their bodies and are satisfied with their weight.

 

Gaston stated, "There's a perception, reinforced by celebrities such as Mo'Nique and Queen Latifah, that African-American women are satisfied with their weights," she explained. But the survey found that only one quarter of the women were satisfied with their weight; less than 10 percent of obese women expressed satisfaction with their weight. This dissatisfaction might play a role in the high rates of negativity, depression and stress seen in Black women.

 

Now that's food for thought.

(Photo: The Plain Dealer/Landov)

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