Obesity in African Americans

black history month, African-American, Obesity, overweight, epidemic, Michelle Obama, childhood obesity, BMI, body mass index, US Census, CDC,  Centers for Disease Control, health care, pre-existing condition, health insurance, mortality rate

This map shows the obesity rate of African American adults in the United States according to the CDC. According to this map 40 out of 50 states have obesity rates higher than 30%.(http://www.examiner.com/article/the-growing-threat-of-obesity-for-african-americans)

I am sure there are many Americans that can relate to more than one racial or ethnic background, me being on of them.  My mother is of mixed Caucasian decent and my father is Japanese and African American.  In most situations society makes us choose one race to identify ourselves, and if an APB were put out on me I would be identified as African American or black. So that is why I chose the health disparity of obesity in African Americans.  If a person has a BMI over 25 they are considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is obese.  America as a whole is in the middle of a huge obesity epidemic, but African Americans, especially women, have much higher percentage rates. A person who is obese is at a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, depression, some types of cancers, and others problems.  These are all reasons that African American men have higher mortality rates then any other group in America. According to the Office of Minority Health 4/5 Afro-American women are overweight or obese and were 70% more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic white women; young girls were 80% more likely to be overweight.  Overall African Americans were 1.4 times more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic whites.

I think the biggest reasons for African-Americans have greater rates of obesity are cultural and socioeconomic rather than genetic.  Culturally it is more acceptable to have a larger body type than in other groups. In some ways this is good, but when it comes to physical health it leads to problems. And according to IMDiversity.com African Americans are also less like to feel guilty about overeating. They also point out that in the environments that blacks live in they have more access to fast food and mini marts that offer more fried, sugary, and over-processed foods and drinks.  One of the biggest culprits lies within the home.  We learn our eating habits from out families, and in African American families the tradition of soul food is passed through the generations.  These foods are usually high in fats and sodium.  This tradition didn’t used to be that big of an issue, but today the same diet is partnered with less activity.  The CDC has also noticed a relationship in socioeconomic status and obesity.  Black men with higher incomes are more likely to be overweight then those with lower incomes. This ratio is opposite for women; higher incomes have lower weights than those with lower incomes.  When it comes to education, women have shown to have lower rates of obesity the more education they receive.

I think that many health disparities among races has more to do with culture and socioeconomic status than actual genetic.  In the United States, racial and ethnic minorities and low-income populations have lower rates of insurance and access to health care. 1/5 of African Americans are insured and 1/10 white Americans don’t have insurance.

– http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/content.aspx?ID=6456

– http://www.examiner.com/article/the-growing-threat-of-obesity-for-african-americans

– http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html




6 thoughts on “Obesity in African Americans

  1. I absolutely agree! I am also African American myself and people with a bigger body are more culturally accepted where as in other groups, there is not much emphasis put on size. I also agree with obesity in African Americans being more focused on socioeconomic status and culture. As you’ve stated, in African American families, it is tradition to have soul food for major holidays. Therefore, the foods are not that healthy. Having fatty foods with little activity can lead to obesity. However, I do think its more to it than exercise.

    Have you ever considered the fact that most foods are no longer made the same? For example, chicken is now grown much faster due to extra hormones and a lot of other chemicals used during farming and food distribution and processing. Hormones in meats can cause puberty in girls to happen faster and earlier than what it use to in the past centuries and can also lead to obesity (http://envirocancer.cornell.edu).

    Therefore, I do think that lack of exercise and the type of foods that African Americans eat are a factor in obesity but so is the way in which the food is grown. I also think obesity is due to the overall lifestyle change in society as well. Children use to be able to come home from school to a home cooked hearty meal. Now, more parents work later hours and they cannot cook dinner or they pick up fast food on the way home. This is also a factor in obesity. I know this from experience.

    I think race is somewhat useful in clinical studies but not always. Race is useful in such that people can study a certain area of where the group of people originate from and how they live. In other words, race is useful in clinical studies when the actual study considers the culture and environment for the health disparity. A better way of discussing racialized health disparities is to focus on other factors (culture, environment, etc.) than looking at race alone.



  2. I definetly agree with your post! I think being overweight as an African American is a lot more accepted than other racial groups. I think obesity is a great health disparity to look at because it is becoming such a problem in America today. Looking at the chart you posted, it is sad to see how much of the United States is overweight!

    I thought it was interesting the point you made about the reason African Americans are obese is because of the learned culture; the way African American families cook their food, socioeconomic status, etc. Have you concidered their environment? What is available in the community they live in is also going to effect their health. I don’t think studying one type of race is beneficial in this situation. Obesity is becoming a widespread epidemic, and every racial category is becoming exposed.

  3. The health disparity I chose to comment on was Obesity and African American adults. I agreed with her explanations that African Americans culturally accept having larger bodies than other groups. Part of this could be doing to cultural factors, with a diet of soul food, which is delicious, but not good for you to consume on a regular basis. I really felt as though they considered all possible factors that could pertain to obesity in African Americans.
    While I feel as though this is a factor, I think this is also do to life style, which affects all groups of people. We are much more sedentary than our ancestors and children come home and play video games now, instead of going outside to play, or to ride bikes. Having a lot of unhealthy foods, coupled with low amounts of exercise, can cause an individual’s chances to become obese.
    Genetics I would say play a part in obesity; some individuals bodies are more apt to store fat and to not loose weight easily, thus making certain people more prone to become obese. However, a lot of it has to do with lifestyle choices as well, and what means you have available to you at hand.
    Race can be people useful in clinical studies only if it is to study the behavior and the culture of the group; otherwise, I feel as though it is unnecessary and does not have to be done. A more effective way to look at health disparities would be to look at communities individuals live in and use that as a comparison, as opposed to race.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post and hearing about your diverse background. I also agreed with the majority of your essay. Socioeconomic status and cultural factors have a huge effect on health. In the U.S., these two vital points relate directly to race. Minorities, in a ratio perspective, do indeed have a higher rate of low socioeconomic status. Factual history shows that policies and irrational belief systems are to blame for issues and in some cases, atrocities that still take place today. Different aspects of culture also play a huge role, as you stated. Culture can determine diet, body appearance acceptability, and numerous other factors that influence health. Another side of the culture argument would be that there is a large disparity of cultures within races. In my opinion, when we make statements like, “that is black culture”, overgeneralization and indirect racism can occur. I know different races do have unique aspects to in terms of culture but for example, not all blacks subscribe to a certain description of culture. So there could be a wide array of disparity there.
    I believe racial categories, due to our past decisions as a society, do have an undeniable relevance to treating ongoing health issues. However, I also believe that genetics and environment are far more important on a scientific level. Race is a social construct and without previously misguided actions and beliefs, would have minimal if any effect on health.

  5. I happen to agree wholeheartedly that the reason for the disparity in African American obesity as compared to others is related to cultural and socioeconomic reasons. From a genetic perspective, I doubt that there is easily recognizable cause, although it is possible. The cultural reasons you mentioned both seem to make sense and would explain this trend. I would not have considered the fact that larger body types are more acceptable in African American culture, but it once stated it seems fairly evident. In most other American cultures there is a push towards thinner people since they are often considered more beautiful and successful, but this mainly depends on the specific culture or family. I would think that the socioeconomic factors are the most influential, since they determine what you eat, and how most of the food you eat is prepared. The environments with easy access to fast foods and mini marts will definitely have more obese people, but I feel that individual circumstances play a larger role in whether someone will be obese or not.

    I don’t think that racial categories are very useful in clinical studies. It may offer an easy way to divide people into categories, but I think separating people by cultural groups would be more effective since that implies similar lifestyles and habits.

  6. I found yours very interesting to read. I agree completely with you too when you say that obesity when you say that a reason for higher African American obesity is cultural and socioeconomic. It is true I think and not even a bad thing that it is more acceptable for especially African American women to have larger body types. I agree also that eating habits come from our families, a lot of the times the foods we grew up with we will carry into our adulthood and if those foods did not have a lot of nutritional value to them or were abundant in fat it could definitely lead to obesity.
    I completely agree with your explanation of the relationship between race, genetics and health. Health does have more to do with socioeconomic and culture. You didn’t mention anything about genetics and I think that genetics are very important factor as well because there are a lot of genetic health issues and genes that cause disease. I definitely did consider what you said because it is not race that has to do with health issues but social status, education environment things that can actually lead to illnesses.
    I think racial categories in clinical studies are not useful. It is hard to divide the line between certain races and what race really is anyway. I think that racial categories could be used to examine what races have higher instances of something but then using that as a way to get to the root of the problem. By taking note that African Americans have higher obesity rates help should be put into finding the main causes of this and try to alleviate it by for instance educating everyone about health and diet at young ages so they can bring this home with them.

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