Commentary: Do Black Women Respond Differently to Exercise?

Commentary: Do Black Women Respond Differently to Exercise?

Research shows that Black women oxidize fat more slowly after exercise than white women, and also that their resting metabolic rates are lower.

Published June 6, 2012

It seems like it’s all the rage to dissect why Black women do the things they do. People want to know why so many Black women are single. Others are interested in how Black women are getting jobs amid a national unemployment crisis. And lately, the big question has been this: Why are Black women overweight?

In a New York Times opinion piece from May called simply “Why Black Women Are Fat,” Alice Randall made her case:

Four out of five black women are seriously overweight. One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes. With $174 billion a year spent on diabetes-related illness in America and obesity quickly overtaking smoking as a cause of cancer deaths, it is past time to try something new.

What we need is a body-culture revolution in black America. Why? Because too many experts who are involved in the discussion of obesity don’t understand something crucial about black women and fat: many black women are fat because we want to be.

Randall went on to argue that being big, curvy and beautiful is so ingrained in the Black community that many African-Americans stay big on purpose. Their husbands, she says, frequently express worry if their wives lose “the sugar down below.”

Obesity as a cultural phenomenon may be one explanation for why so many African-American women are suffering from the condition. Another, however, may be that Black women have different bodies.

In a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers state that one reason Black women are heavier than their white counterparts may be because they respond to exercise differently.

“The study … found that among black adolescent girls who moved the most at age 12, obesity at age 14 was nearly as likely as it was for those whose activity rates were far lower,” writes Melissa Healy in the L.A. Times. “For white girls, by contrast, regular exercise at 12 appeared a nearly sure way to head off obesity at 14. That finding held, even when the calorie intakes of an African-American youngster and her white counterpart were the same.”

Other research shows that Black women oxidize fat more slowly after exercise than white women, and also that their resting metabolic rates are lower.

While the research is interesting, and important for attacking the belief that maybe Black women’s weight struggles are purely cultural, it’s important to note that these kinds of “physical difference” studies are murky. For instance, according to research out of Morehouse College, 58 percent of African-Americans have at least 12.5 percent European blood in them. Others have much more. With that much white blood coursing through that many so-called “Black” people, what makes a Black person and what makes a white person?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some physical differences between human beings. But trying to get to the bottom of physical differences between the races is often ridiculous. In other words, looking at how Black women respond to exercise in order to ascertain something about their weight is a start, but it’s certainly not the answer we’re looking for.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Written by Cord Jefferson

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