Study investigators reviewed the exercise levels and caloric intakes of 1,148 12-year-olds. After two years, lower levels of obesity correlated with higher levels of exercise in White girls. Yet, surprisingly, the study results for Black girls didn’t pan out in the same way: Those adolescents that reported vigorous physical activity were nearly as likely to be obese two years later at age 14 as those who rarely exercised.
Study authors James White, Ph.D. and Russell Jago, Ph.D. summarized that Black girls have lower fat oxidation rates coupled with lower resting metabolic rates that predisposes them to retaining fat during puberty. Other contributing factors toward obesity in the higher risk group is a sedentary lifestyle (like television viewing) and the consumption of high calorie eats.
“Our results suggest that prompting adolescent girls to be active may be important to preventing obesity but that using different approaches (e.g. emphasizing reductions in energy intake) may be necessary to prevent obesity in Black girls,” the authors wrote.
This latest research comes on the heels of a frightening trend of obesity among Black women: An overwhelming 78 percent of African-American women are overweight or obese, which is the highest in the country for all women, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Black women are 35 percent more likely to die of heart disease than White women, according to the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. Four out of five Black women are seriously overweight. One out of four middle-aged Black women has diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blacks have 51 percent higher obesity rates than Whites do.
So clearly exercise should be a No. 1 priority for Black women.
New York Times op-ed columnist Alice Randall wrote an opinion piece last month entitled “Black Women and Fat.” In her article, she discusses how we need a body culture revolution in Black America. Randall very succinctly pointed out that “many black women are fat because we want to be.” The writer also called on every Black woman for whom it is appropriate to get under the 200 pound weight limit or to lose the 10 percent of body weight that often results in a 50 percent reduction in diabetes risk.
The authors do point out that “promoting activity would have less impact in this high-risk population.” So in no uncertain terms, the message is clearly that obesity campaigns aimed at African-American girls should consider focusing less on exercise and more on controlling what they put in their mouths.