Fighting Obesity in the Black Community

At 13, she stood at 5′ 1″ and weighed between 145 and 150 pounds. Her grandmother decided she was too chubby for her age and enrolled her in Weight Watchers. But it was not until she turned 41 and tipped the scale at 220 pounds did Oxon Hill, MD, resident Elise Burwell take losing weight seriously. She had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. “My weight began to haunt me,” she said. “It was time to loose the weight for good and change my eating habits.” This time Burwell joined another weight watcher program — Jenny Craig. She dropped 65 pounds but gained 30 back! But she was determined. She cut out of her diet fried foods, pastas, and joined Curves. Who knows! Where Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig had failed, Curves might work, she thought. “Over the past two months at Curves, I’ve lost 10 more pounds and I currently weigh 185,” she noted of her progress, so far. The 1999 Metropolitan Height and Weight Tables for men and women ages 25 – 59 say that Burwell, who is 543, should be between 125 and 140 pounds. She says she is determined to hit those marks before long. But as an African American woman, the odds of achieving that goal seem stacked against Burwell. According to research, the African American community is the number one minority that struggles with obesity often starting in adolescent years. The American Obesity Association also reportsthat 20 percent of Black children ages 6 to 11 are obese and 24 percent between 12 and 19 are overweight. Statistics from the American Obesity Association show the percentage of black Americans who are obese increased from 19 percent in 1991 to 31 percent in 2001. By comparison, about 20 percent of whites were obese in 2001. About 78 percent of black women are overweight; 51 percent are obese. Among black teens, 46 percent are overweight and 27 percent are obese. It’s a familiar struggle, says Shawn Parker of Bowie, MD. He is 6’2″ and took to the gym when he tipped the scale at 315. “I couldn’t fit into my clothes, and I found myself having shortness of breath just to go up the stairs. I knew it was time to loose the weight gradually but surely,” said Parker.

His battle strategy is smaller portions. Instead of a standard size plate, he uses saucer ones. He also eats very little bread and has cut pasta out of his diet. He has set up a gym at his home, which includes an elliptical, treadmill, bike and weights. For additional exercise, Parker walks the family dog. “Exercising has added to my overall well-being and has added more stamina to my relationship with my wife,” he said. “Our relationship is now more vibrant and rejuvenated. The key “Be mentally ready for the change and consider it a change in lifestyle.” Area schools administrations are taking the war on the bulges seriously, too. Good eating habits, nutrition and daily physical activity are getting higher attention, spurred by a law President Bush signed in 2004, requiring every school district that participates in thefederal school means programs to enact a wellness policy by the first day of the 2006-07 school year. The Local Wellness Policy has just been passed by the District of Columbia. This policy assesses how much physical education that children are involved in and what types of healthy foods are served in the public school cafeterias. “There really is no mandate set in place because of the Local Wellness Policy just recently being passed, said Renee Evans school program manager in the Department of Education, but some schools like the Potomac Lighthouse Public Charter School have brought in special physical education programs outside of their school, such as martial arts classes to add to their curriculum.” Poverty is a major contributor to obesity in Black communities that results often to more serious health problems. “The two major risk factors for obesity are physical inactivity and unhealthy eating,” said, Lachenna Cromer, senior director of the Institute for the Advancement of Multi-Cultural and Minority Medicine. “For some the problem is as simple as finding a safe place to exercise and where to leave the kids.” “Beginning a healthier lifestyle doesn’t take a lot of effort,” says Cromer. “Park farther from your office, walk as opposed to taking the elevator, and plan your lunch so you can buy affordable healthy food. Three easy steps to begin your journey to fighting the risk ofobesity are, cut out fried and fast foods, eat fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen), and walk, walk, walk!” Standing at 5′ 2″ inches tall, Barbara Wiggins knew that her weight, 66 pounds was not proportionate to her height. Obesity runs in her family, she said. She is signed up at World’s Gym in Waldorf, MD, and uses a DVD at home entitled Walk Away the Pounds. “Start slow,” encouraged Wiggins. “And continue to grow in your goals that you set for yourself.”