Here’s Why More African-Americans May Be Obese.



( Obesity is a pressing health issue that is fast becoming a global problem, affecting people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects over 40% of adults and nearly 20% of children, bringing the total of obese individuals to around 114.7 million Americans. In line with this, health officials also found that racial and ethnic minorities are at greater risk of obesity. African-Americans are currently the largest population with chronic diseases among communities of color, with almost 50% diagnosed as obese.

While the risks associated with obesity are documented across all races and ethnicities, African-American communities have more nuanced and complex experiences surrounding the issue of obesity, making the condition common and more dangerous.

Understanding excess weight

To understand how obesity affects Black communities, it’s necessary to study the nature of excess weight. Being overweight and obese are both defined by an excessive accumulation of fat stored in the body that can introduce a number of health risks. These include developing hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular complications, and mental health problems such as body issues and serotonin deficiency. Genetics, diet, metabolism, and lifestyle are some of the key influences for weight gain, making it a complex issue to address.

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The common measure used to calculate excess fat is determined by the body mass index (BMI), factoring in the ratio of height and weight. Properly interpreting BMI numbers determines whether a person is dealing with being overweight vs obesity. A BMI of 25-29.9 is considered overweight, while anything above 30 falls under obesity. It is important to note that someone’s BMI cannot account for the range of factors affecting individual health and weight status, as it does not distinguish between excess fat, muscle, or bone mass. That said, BMI is not always the most accurate measure of overall health and weight conditions.

Many healthcare providers continue to look for less arbitrary measures to address individual health needs. This is especially important considering that the BMI was historically developed with White populations in mind, thereby overlooking nuances in other races. Regardless of the BMI scale, though, the prevalence of obesity is hard to undermine, and certain groups of people are more likely to become obese due to the intersection of harmful social bias and economic limitations. As African-Americans have been systematically disadvantaged for multiple generations, they are more likely to be exposed to the dangers of obesity for a number of key reasons:

Socioeconomic and health disparities

An individual’s socioeconomic status has a crucial role in determining access to resources like quality healthcare. Besides racial discrimination, African-Americans also cited environmental quality problems in their communities, hospitals, and medical centers as contributing factors in health disparities. Being medically underfunded makes it difficult to get regular check-ups to maintain good health and address the early on-set of obesity and other health complications. In line with this, African-Americans are less likely to have financial cushions to access better healthcare services, assuming their healthcare provider does not discriminate. Furthermore, a lot of African-Americans do not qualify for health insurance since they earn $15.81 an hour on average when the qualification requires someone to earn $29.82 an hour. With these factors in mind, African-Americans are less likely to receive the proper medical attention to prevent the development of obesity, putting them at greater risk.

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Limited food environment

Despite significant gains, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that African-Americans are still the second most likely to experience poverty, with a national average of 21% living below the poverty line. Those who live in these socioeconomic conditions are more likely to live in communities that are susceptible to experiencing “food deserts.” This means they do not have access to broader food resources and are stuck with less nutritious options, such as dollar food stores. These stores carry food products with accessible price points but often have a limited range of fresh and nutritious food as they primarily sell highly processed and pre-packaged meals. Consistently eating less nutritious food increases the risk of obesity, as poor nutrition causes weight gain, among other health concerns. Since most African-Americans are systematically disadvantaged and cannot easily access a better quality of life, they tend to develop obesity easier as they can only work with what food they have.

Compounded effects of stress and discrimination

African-Americans experience racial discrimination on multiple fronts, which can lead to long-lasting effects on physical and mental health. The stress from dealing with racism increases the risk of chronic disease and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In line with this, the compounded effects of discrimination, including the socioeconomic disadvantages experienced by African-Americans, can influence the development of obesity. Stress can induce comfort eating, which includes the consumption of food in frequent and excess amounts to curb emotions. Additionally, stress can make a person mentally and emotionally shut down, choosing to seclude to avoid risking a potentially upsetting situation again. Given the stress African-Americans regularly face, their situation puts them at an increased risk of exposure to symptoms that can lead to obesity.

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Staff Writer; Carl Johnson