Study Shows Black Women Can Be Healthy At Higher Weights
Black women can carry more weight than white women and still be considered health. That was the finding, reported by Reuters Health, of a 2011 study conducted by Peter T. Katzmarzyk associate executive director for Population Science and his colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Katzmarzyk's group calculated the Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) and measured the waist circumferences of over 6,000 men and women of all races to look for the threshold at which weight becomes significantly associated with disease.
According to the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, a BMI of 30 or higher is linked to more cases of high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. But Katzmarzyk found that the cut-off does not seem to hold true for black women. While there was no racial difference for men, Katzmarzyk showed that, for black women, the risk didn’t increase until they reached a BMI of 33. For example, for a 5'5" tall woman, the statistical risk for disease would increase at 180 pounds if she was white but at 198 pounds if she was black. A black woman can be healthy with a bigger waistline as well, according to the study. Dr. Katamarzyk thought a possible reason for the contrast might be the difference in the way body fat is distributed in women among the races. Men and women of other races were not included in this study.
Black Women and Obesity
Regardless of the cut-off point, obesity is still a problem in the black community The National Center for Health Statistics reported that, “As a group, African American women have the highest percentage of overweight/obesity in the US. Three out of four African American women are either overweight or obese.” For white women, that number is one in two. (However, if the threshold was adjusted to BMI 33, fewer black women would fall into that category.) While promoting healthy weight in African-American women is essential the factors behind these statistics are complex.
Many factors contribute to obesity among black women, including genetics and socio-economic status (SES). Genetically, African American women tend to have slower metabolisms according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - still, that does not guarantee that they will be overweight. How SES impacts weight is not quite as clear. A handful of studies have tested the hypothesis that low SES is a predictor of obesity; however, a well- researched review showed that association between SES and obesity varies by ethnicity and that ethnic/racial differences in BMI are not fully explained by individual SES.
Solutions for All
Speaking to the Congressional Black Caucus in 2010 Michelle Obama talked about childhood obesity in the black community and the role that adults can play in improving their children’s health and their own well-being.
“The fact is that many of us, and many of the folks that we know and love, have struggled with our weight,” she told the group, adding later in her remarks, "The reality is that we all need to start making some changes to how our families eat.”
That’s advice that would apply to any ethnic or racial group. To lessen the problems of overweight and the chronic diseases that accompany it, we all need to modify our recipes to cut calories, reduce our portions, order healthy food when eating out, and get exercise.
While we can find reasons why obesity affects certain communities more than others, we’re all in this together.
Does it validate black women to hear they can be healthy at a higher weight? Is it possible to be both heavy and healthy?