Should Black Women Focus on Maintaining Weight for Better Health?

New study focuses on a “maintain, not gain” weight approach to address obesity. 

Posted: 09/06/2013 12:19 PM EDT

Encouraging Black women to maintain their weight, instead of focusing on weight loss, may be a successful approach in protecting the health of obese and overweight women, according to researchers from the Duke University Obesity Prevention Program.

Yes, not losing weight, but maintaining weight.

The team of researchers recruited 200 “mildly obese” middle-aged women.

One group consisted of women who only went to their doctors a few times a year and were counseled about weight loss. Yet it’s important to point out that it’s not certain if the study’s participants in this group were ever counseled by their doctors, even though it's their job to. Gary Bennett, the lead researcher and director of the Duke University Obesity Prevention Program, told BET.com that it’s only strongly assumed that conversations happened, but he is confident that they did.

Sixty-five percent of this group of women, who only received weight loss counseling, actually gained more weight during the year.

The other group of women was put in a health-related program called Shape, which focuses on food counseling and exercise to maintain their shape. During this 18-month program, the emphasis was on not gaining weight as opposed to losing weight. The program encouraged exercise with a free membership to the YWCA, eating 200 calories less per day and food journaling.

Sixty-five percent of these women either maintained their weight or even lost some weight with this program.

“Our focus was on weight stability," Bennett told Health Day News. "And we did not push the connection between health and weight. The goal was to help these women — who are already slightly obese — avoid further weight gains that, year after year, will give rise to all sorts of health complications down the road.”

Confused?

I was too, especially when reading the other articles about this study, because it seems to go against what we are being told by health experts. “Lose weight, lose weight, lose weight, because obesity will kill you."

Over the years, this message has especially been geared toward Black women, who bear the biggest brunt of obesity in the U.S. Studies show that 80 percent of us are either overweight or obese. Perhaps these messages have been falling on deaf ears.

So what’s the deal?

Bennett told BET.com that, for starters, the obese/overweight women they recruited for the study were not interested in losing any weight. Bennett believes that the lack of the stigma around obesity in the Black community plays a factor in why these women lack desire to shed any pounds.

“I’ve studied obesity among Black women for almost 30 years, and Black women are the least likely to want to lose weight because they don’t think that they are obese, because that is their norm.” He added, “So many Black women I have spoken to have said that when they talk about needing to lose weight, someone in their life, whether it’s a spouse, family member or friend has told them not to or that they look fine they way they are.”

So for these women, Bennett refused to give up and wanted to see what could be done to better their health.

He believes that one strategy that can work is by focusing on not gaining any more weight.

“If you are not actively trying to lose weight, you can gain 2-4 pounds of year every year, and that adds up over time. And it’s that extra gained weight for Black women, especially when they hit 40, that really begins to have those negative affects on their health,” he explains. 

Yet Bennett is clear: Maintaining weight is not as good as losing weight if you want to reduce your risk of suffering from chronic health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. But he would rather have women who are slightly overweight or obese making better lifestyle changes than forcing a weight loss strategy on women that won’t work.

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(Photo: Getty Images/Image Source)

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