Commentary: Is the Black Community Full of “Soul Food Junkies?”

An upcoming documentary says the Black community is suffering in part because of its inextricable ties to high-fat, high-calorie food.

Posted: 12/28/2012 05:20 PM EST
Commentary: Is the Black Community Full of “Soul Food Junkies?”

By now you’ve read somewhere — and perhaps seen with your own eyes — that many Black Americans have a problem with obesity. According to the federal Office of Minority Health, in 2010, Blacks were 1.4 times more likely to be obese than whites. For women, the numbers are even worse. African-American women have the highest rates of obesity in America, with about 80 percent of Black women coming in as either overweight or obese.

Why are so many Black people overweight? It’s something everyone’s trying to figure out, because if we can get to the bottom of the dilemma, we can also help eliminate the health problems associated with obesity in the Black community, including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Though so many things contribute to this obesity epidemic, a new documentary contends that one stands above all: soul food.

According to Reuters, next month, U.S. public broadcasting will air Soul Food Junkies, a new film that places the blame for the Black obesity problem squarely on down-home favorites: collard greens, ham hocks and — gasp — even macaroni and cheese. Reports Harriet McLeod:

The movie, which will premiere on January 14 on U.S. public broadcasting television, examines how black cultural identity is linked to high-calorie, high-fat food such as fried chicken and barbecued ribs and how eating habits may be changing.

In the deeply personal film, [filmmaker Byron] Hurt details his father's fight and eventual death from pancreatic cancer. A high-fat diet is a risk factor for the illness, according to researchers at Duke University in North Carolina.

To be fair to Mr. Hurt, it’s indeed important to note that much of the food considered “traditional” in the Black community is also traditionally cooked without health in mind. That being said, it’s also important to not forget that this problem isn’t just a “soul food” problem, nor is it just a Black problem.

The fact is that, in February of this year, America was the fattest nation in the developed world, with an obesity rate of 33.8 percent. African-Americans are certainly disproportionately overweight, but they are far from the only heavy people in the country, and a lot of those heavy people aren’t eating soul food.

Is there possibly too much high-calorie food in the Black community? Of course. But that goes for just about every other community in America, too. If chicken and grits weren’t around, they could easily be replaced with cheeseburgers, French fries and burritos.

The food is an issue, but let’s also remember to try to figure out the societal factors driving people to gorge themselves on unhealthy food in the first place, regardless of that food’s cultural origin.

The views here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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