Obesity in African American females- a public health and cultural challenge

Obesity is a huge public health problem in our country with rates skyrocketing and causing a myriad of associated health consequences.  However, the prevalence of obesity is not evenly distributed among the population.  Certain populations, such as African American women, have much higher rates of obesity than the national average.  This article discusses the trend and how researchers are approaching it. 

However, this article as well as this article in the Atlanta Black Star discuss how cultural differences may be a component of the trend that is often under-recognized.  Additionally, recent epidemiological research has suggested that the optimal weight for black females may be higher than our current standards.  

This, like many public health issues, is a multi-factorial problem that is not being covered well in the media.  What do you think about the coverage and perspectives in the articles?  Do you think that increasing diversity in journalism is important for public health issues such as this?



About Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn is a second year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School interested in innovations in medical education. When she is not preparing to be a physician, chances are she is on her bike!

9 Responses to “Obesity in African American females- a public health and cultural challenge”

  1. Issues like these present a serious challenge for journalists because the issue is so complex and there are so many factors that go in to explaining why one facet of the population may be more affected than another. Because there is so much information out there and so many theories it is hard to give a full picture to your reader. Instead, as several of the articles you posted do, it is important to focus in on a few possible reasons, solutions, or studies. Focus helps the reader understand that there is more to the story while still allowing them to grasp an in depth look at what is going on.

    Public health is difficult to cover because it is often hard to sort out all of the facts. Increasing mediums and the evolving field of journalism is important for public health. It allows us to get the word out faster and to more people. It allows us to explore more research without the worry of finding a place to put it.

  2. I appreciated these articles since they provided a fresh perspective of the obesity epidemic. With such heavy emphasis on obesity’s negative impacts on health, readers often gain a sense of helplessness towards the issue, resulting in apathy. These articles highlighted how different ethnic groups perceive body image, how their perceptions affected their health, and practical steps they can take to be proactive about combating obesity. As a result, readers are more motivated to actually change their behavior. While many articles raise only the positive or negative extremes with public health stories, it is vital that they consider them through social and cultural perspectives, in addition to the biological and scientific approach they are normally understood through. Thus, journalism is only enhanced with increased diversity and cultural perspective.

  3. jacquelinegamache Reply April 10, 2013 at 6:00 am

    The Black Star article does a unique job of discussing how obesity specifically relates to African American women in a social context. Typically when these issues are discussed, the problem is never broken down beyond sex or age. The article doesn’t really explain how the subset is going to be motivated to make changes to their health and therefore presents a flawed action plan in the end of the piece. If overweight black women have high self esteem, the media praises their curves, and they are surrounded by calorie-rich soul food, why change if diabetes hasn’t been identified yet? How can we overcome being intimidated by fitness and health? How can we make everyone start to equate running everyday with brushing your teeth? Education at early ages will be important to change the current mindset.

  4. In the Medbioworld article I appreciated the caution with which they approached the research. It would have been very easy to be a lot more sensationalist. That being said, I think there were some opportunities to explore the implications of the research a little more without being irresponsible. Questions like how was the “standard” for obesity set, was the test group racially mixed?

    I was also interested in the black star articles, specifically how they referenced hair. Chris Rock (of all people) did a documentary on the subject of black culture’s relationship with hair, called “Good Hair”. It’s incredible how strongly having non-natural hair has become tied in with perception of beauty.

  5. Both the US today and the Black Star did a good job talking about the cultural elements that affect obesity, such as the concept of beauty. I agree with Jackie that the end of the black star article is not as strong as the rest of it. The interesting part, for me, was to see that many influential black woman are engaged on this cause.
    Going back to one of the questions on the original post, I would say that it is essential to have diversity among journalists, not only when it comes to cover public health issues. Although the ideal journalist should be able to remove him/herself from the article, we know that personal experiences and the ability to relate to an specific cause can help one who is reporting on an specific topic. However, we should not do the opposite and consider that one cannot write about a topic because of race/gender/ethnicity/cultural differences.

  6. This information all seems to contradict itself….Some articles say that Black women can be at higher BMI’s and it is still healthy yet others say that research is not true. I feel like this is a story…someone needs to look into the truth of this matter. They should interview scientists on both sides of the issues. I am not quite sure what you mean by “Do you think that increasing diversity in journalism is important for public health issues such as this?” if you mean should journalists report more on public health issues for people who are not male, white, middle class, heterosexual, and Christian, my answer is yes. Just like the Public Health field has more research on “privileged social identity issues” reporting on “privileges social identities” is also more prevalent. Journalists should report about the lack of information for minority groups. They should report on the little information that does exist today about minority health issues.

  7. I think all three articles are doing something different and from a different perspective. However, I found them all to be effective in covering the issue at hand. What about biracial or multiracial females? I wonder if they have an increased or a decreased risk depending on their ethnicity.

    One of the biggest things screaming in my mind while reading all three articles was “How is this the first time that I have heard about this?”. I think there is definitely a call for more diversity coverage in journalism. We need to hear the public health issues that apply to and include everyone. Not just your average Caucasian female. If a minority group is showing a trend such as this one, it needs to be known. Journalists need to think bigger and dig deeper to make sure all groups are getting the news coverage that they deserve.

  8. I think all of these articles did a good job of highlighting the issues, and especially of pointing out reasons (economic, cultural, geographic) as to why Black women have such high rates of obesity compared to their caucasian counterparts. However, one aspect that wasn’t addressed was the culpability of our health care system as a whole to cater to minorities. On one hand, it is true that our health care system has failed all Americans by not providing quality preventative treatment or advocating for hollistic approaches to wellness that could decrease costs and improve health across the board.

    However, a recent study by the University of Michigan National Poll on Children’s Health revealed that African American parents are twice as likely to ignore the advice of their pediatricians which often concerns parenting behavior such as diet, tv exposure, and discipline (not rewarding your children with sweets). This is in part due to the fact that only only 11% of black parents report seeing a pediatrician who is also black. How can we address these deeper issues? Does the lack of coverage of issues like this also reflect the lack of minorities in journalism? Is it more difficult or less-legitimate for non-minorities to cover minority issues?

  9. This is a difficult topic to cover because it is singling out one race and gender as having a serious problem. In the first article most of the reasons covered were really obvious, and I think it makes sense that black women – a group of people that have experienced major prejudices, may face more difficulties. It really is amazing that these stories are not being covered by very many journalists. And it is interesting that black women are spoken of as a “minority” rather than just another group of people…I mean, I guess they are technically a minority but speaking of a group of people this way seems to me to be belittling. Journalists should cover stories on all types of people, we are, after all, a HUMAN race…

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