by Cameron Willis
All over the world obesity is a huge public health issue, and some classify it as an epidemic. We have personally experienced obesity whether it was personally, through friends, or family. In this essay we are going to be focusing on African Americans specifically, and how obesity affects them, and them only. Obesity has become a major problem in the African-American population in recent years, and it may be ascribed to a variety of cultural factors. We are going to unpack the array of different categories, along with other statistical evidence.
For starters, it is important to discuss exactly what obesity is. Obesity is the indirect or direct result of many factors both behavioral and genetic. This includes medication use, inactivity, diet, and many other influences. When it comes to what exactly obesity is, it includes the excessive amount of body fat. Mayo Clinic (2021) stated that, “ Although there are genetic, behavioral, metabolic and hormonal influences on body weight, obesity occurs when you take in more calories than you burn through normal daily activities and exercise. Your body stores these excess calories as fat”. This means that regardless of the influence that affects your body the most, the calories that were not burned will still be stored as fat. When you don’t burn the same amount of calories that you consume, it leads to fat storage, which over time, leads to obesity. It is also important to note that “It is different from being overweight, which means weighing too much. The weight may come from muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water. Both terms mean that a person’s weight is greater than what’s considered healthy for his or her height. Obesity happens over time when you eat more calories than you use.” (Medline Plus, pt. 1). To put into simpler terms, obesity is a clear indication of one’s health, and it shows through a person’s weight, depending on their body type and height.
This leads us to the indisputable fact that obesity is a major public health concern. NCBI (2001) says that, “This burden manifests itself in premature death and disability, in health care costs, in lost productivity, and in social stigmatization. The burden is not trivial. Studies show that the risk of death rises with increasing weight”. Obesity is definitely a problem among the American population, and it shows in the statistics. If nothing is done, or if improvements don’t happen, we will be faced with the sad fact of obesity taking away lives at an alarming rate. NCBI (2001) stated that, “Many adult Americans have not been meeting Federal physical activity recommendations to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week”. Due to the fact that most Americans aren’t getting the proper exercise needed to prevent obesity, we are seeing extremely high numbers of obesity throughout America. Dealing with obesity can lead to many mental health challenges and a decrease in the quality of life.
Moving to the epidemiological side of obesity, let’s look at the statistical evidence among African Americans. When we take a look at the percentage of non-Hispanic African Americans 44.87 % of males, and 55.13 % of females are considered obese. African American women have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight compared to other groups in the United States. About 4 out of 5 African American women are overweight or obese (OMH, 2020). Next, when we observe the percentage of non-Hispanic African American children between the ages 18-34 who are obese, were are presented with 36.33%, which includes males and females. Between the ages 35-64, 52.54% of males and females are obese. Lastly, 11.13 % of African Americans 65 and under are obese. Taking a look at marital status, 33.15 % of African Americans who are married are obese, while 8.82 % of those who have a partner are obese. On the other hand, 26.37% ones who are separated, divorced, or widowed are obese. The percentage of those who were never married lies at 31.65%. From this data, you can’t come to a certain point due to the mixture of numbers. Moving on to employment status, 66.92 % of those who are employed are obese, while 10.25 % of those who aren’t employed are obese. When it comes to income, 30.88% those making under $18,000 are obese, 24.71% of people making between $18,000 – $31,000 are obese, 24.52 % of those making between $32,000 – $55,000 are obese, and 19.89 % of those making $56,000 and under are obese. From these numbers you can indicate that the higher the income, the lower the percentage of obesity among that group of individuals. Lastly, 24.20% of those who did not complete high school are obese, 37.83% of those who completed high school are obese, 23.80% of those who completed some college are obese, and lastly 14.17% of those who completed college are obese. It is not definite, but the higher the education level completed, the lower the percentage of obesity.
Inequities in secure and affordable housing, wealth, and access to high-quality education are all contributing causes. Each of these elements has the capacity to alter an individual’s possibility of living a longer and healthier life, either directly or indirectly. Furthermore, when such situations are combined with gaps in access to inexpensive and nutritious meals or safe spaces to be fit and active, a vision of obesity in the African-American community appears. A great deal of African Americans are faced with limited nutritious food at grocery stores, greater access to liquor stores that only offer processed items (soda, chips, cookies, and soda). There is a huge percentage of African Americans in impoverished neighborhoods, and these convenient stores are often found here, but a good grocery store is nowhere to be found within 10 miles from the community. There is a great disconnect between the Black community and affordability and accessibility.
Public health professionals are always working to help prevent the spread of obesity, and this is done through primary, secondary, and tertiary strategies. Primary prevention for obesity includes changing your lifestyle habits such as healthy eating and being more active. Secondary prevention includes a more targeted goal as far as dietary intake. Tertiary prevention for obesity is the most intense, and this includes pharmacologic therapies, and surgical procedures. There are also a lot of different strategies for prevention such as keeping a food diary, eating controlled portions, choosing whole grain foods, cutting out highly processed foods, reading food labels, and including moderate to vigorous physical activity in your day (Johns Hopkins Medicine, Adults). There are so many ways to combat this disease, and even though it may be difficult to implement, it’s worth it.
It is safe to determine that a great number of Americans deal with obesity. It is without a doubt that the African American community are more likely to be obese due to a number of different reasons. As an effort to fight against obesity, there has been a push for an increase in physical activity, healthy diets, and increased help from healthcare professionals. There have been some improvements in gaining access to better services for African Americans, but there are still many in need. There needs to be equal opportunity for achieving great health among all, and that is a basic human right.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, September 2). Obesity. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20375742. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, November 4). Obesity. MedlinePlus. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/obesity.html. Overweight and obesity as Public Health Problems in America. The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44210/. Office of Minority Health. Obesity and African Americans – The Office of Minority Health. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=25. Lincoln, K. D., Abdou, C. M., & Lloyd, D. (2014, February). Race and socioeconomic differences in obesity and depression among black and non-Hispanic white Americans. Journal of health care for the poor and underserved. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830390/. Preventing obesity in children, teens, and adults. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/obesity/preventing-obesity.
Cameron Willis writes about Healthcare and Policy for Sarah Mason Consulting LLC.