Commentary: Will African-American Celebs Promoting Weight Loss Programs Actually Encourage Us?

It is good to see African-American women advertising weight loss programs because Black women can identify with them but, in the end, we do need inspiration to get on the right track. These ads might be a start, but they are not the end-all, be-all.

Over the holiday season, it’s not abnormal to see commercials for weight loss programs — the New Year is coming and almost everyone I know (myself included) is trying to drop those pesky extra pounds. But what did stand out to me was how many Black celebs were in these commercials.


Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, who has been promoting Weight Watchers since last spring, has lost a whopping 80 pounds. Her newest commercial has her old larger self singing to her new smaller self. But other R&B divas, namely Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson, have joined in the weight loss game, promoting Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem, respectively.


On one hand this is a good thing. Not just for their pockets, but for the everyday Black woman.


Most of the celeb spokespeople are not of color, making it difficult for many of us to see how these programs relate to us. But perhaps women we can identify with who are not scary skinny can encourage us to do the same, which is something we desperately need to do. According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, in 2009 Blacks were 1.5 times more likely to be overweight or obese than whites. African-American women are 60 percent more likely to be obese than White women and about four out of five African-American females are now either overweight or obese.


This is a serious problem, and perhaps these types of programs will foster a better understanding about what it means to eat healthy, the importance of counting calories and checking food labels.


But, on the other hand, I do have a few reservations about whether these ads will be the catalyst for better health among black women. First, with any celebrity, regardless of race, boasting that these meal plans have helped them lose weight always garners somewhat of a side-eye reaction. These people get paid for their looks, can afford private chefs and personal trainers, have time to work out 2-4 hours per day, and have assistants and life coaches to make sure they adhere to their strict diets in order to achieve these amazing results. So if you are expecting to have Janet's six-pack after 6 months by eating prepackaged food, you might be setting yourself up for failure.  


Secondly, while I understand that these companies are strictly promoting their food programs, the reality is that no one can eat their way out of obesity. In order to lose weight, you have to do cardio workouts and strength train. No matter how svelte Jennifer's waist or how toned Mariah's thighs, that came with exercise — something that they don't really mention in these ads. This is a shame, especially given that the women these ads are geared for exercise the least.


And finally, past literature has suggested that because of cultural issues, many Black women embrace thickness and don't see it as a problem, don't acknowledge or know that they are overweight and are more comfortable with their size than their white counterparts. Now granted, these findings aren't an exact science, need more supporting research and are way more complicated than they sound, but because these ads are focusing solely on what losing weight does to someone's outward appearance, these messages might fall on deaf ears for Black women.


What would be helpful is if food programs such as the ones in these ads (and countless exercise programs) would promote that weight isn't just about what you look like, but about overall health. Being able to fit into skinny jeans is great, but lowering your blood sugar, or being able to take one less pill for your cholesterol or not having as many blockages in your arteries, is even better. And this message is getting lost in the rhetoric that losing weight is all about the aesthetics when, really, losing weight is about saving our lives and improving the quality of life.


In the end, we do need inspiration to get on the right track. These ads might be a start, but they are not the end-all, be-all.


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


BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

 (Photo: Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images for Weight Watchers)

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

Select the types of notification you would like to receive from us. Please note, you must choose at least one.

By clicking subscribe, I consent to receiving newsletters and other marketing emails. Newsletters are subject to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Users can unsubscribe at any time.