by Maria Lloyd
The staggering statistics about black women and obesity and Type 2 diabetes is bringing forth a serious conversation about health and fitness in Black America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 60 percent of black women are obese. Even more staggering is 50 percent of black women develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. It is evident that a change in our health no longer just wanted — it is a necessity.
The American Psychological Association (APA) teamed up with the Association of Black Psychologists to launch a call to action summit to explore the intersection of race, stress, and social context — as well as the culturally sensitive interventions that can make a difference in the obesity rate of black women.
On the Causes:
The summit truly explored the root of the issue and provided viable solutions to alleviate the problem. APA Past-President Dr. Suzanne Bennett Johnson attributed the surge of obesity in the United States to: 1) A host of factors that have made junk food and fast food inexpensive while making fresh fruits and vegetables comparatively more expensive and 2) Women working out of the home, causing families to eat out much more. Dr. James Jackson, Director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, said African-American women have been hit hardest by the obesity epidemic — regardless of their socioeconomic status — due to the “stress of being a black woman in a white man’s world.” His research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows that black women often buffer themselves from the chronic stress of racism and supporting entire family systems through high calorie “comfort food.”
Dustin Duncan, ScD, research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, attributes geographical factors (e.g. high crime and few supermarkets) to the obesity disparity in black women. Duncan has found that women who are afraid to go out at night take an average of 1,107 fewer steps each day than women who feel safe in their neighborhoods. In another study, Duncan found that more parks didn’t correlate with reduced BMI, perhaps because they had become meeting places for drug dealers and criminals.
On the solutions:
Educating the black community about the causes of obesity is an important first step in helping the communities fight back, said Emerson College health communication and behavioral science professor Dr. Angela Cooke-Jackson, MPH. “So often, as black people, we are talked about but not talked to,” she said. “We need to give black women a voice and give them agency. Tell them how stress is affecting them, and tell their communities what they are up against.”
Dr. Johnson believes that fighting for policy changes that encourage healthy eating and exercise is a viable solution for the problem. Psychologist and professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Maureen Black, said promoting a healthy eating and physical activity in culturally sensitive. She said that has been the key to an obesity-prevention program she created named “Challenge.”
“We recruited the popular eighth-grade girls to promote a healthier school environment, through healthy snack posters, physical activities such as jump rope sessions on the lawn, and culminating in a Health Fair,” Dr. Black said.
The group also discussed the benefits of utilizing health and fitness support groups as a tool to empower black women to lead healthier lives. Gayle Porter, co-founder of “Prime Time Sister Circles,” a 12-week program that has successfully aided 2,000 women lead healthier lives, says one of the toughest lessons is convincing the participants, most of whom are Christian, that it’s OK to take care of themselves. “As Christian women, we’re taught that taking care of our own health is selfish,” Dr. Porter said.
Now that you know the problem and you have recommendations for a solution, pledge to take care of your health today. Don’t waste another moment deteriorating your health.