Despite their disproportionate obesity rate, African- American women can lose weight and keep it off once they overcome cultural barriers, according to a focus group study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine and Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston.
Results are presented in the July print edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine and are available online.Thirty-seven black women who lost weight and kept it off or who lost weight and regained it participated in focus groups about their weight loss experiences for the study. According to data gathered by the Center for Disease Control in 2002, 82 percent of African-American women over the age of 40 are overweight or obese compared to the national average of 64 percent.The focus group results have been developed into a survey about weight loss for African Americans. Individuals who complete the survey can become part of the African-American Weight Control Registry funded by the National Institutes of Health. The national registry is seeking over 1,500 African-American participants.”Because of social norms and African-American culture, there tends to be greater tolerance with a heavier weight; however, African Americans can and do lose weight. The women in our focus groups who kept off the weight lost an average of 60 pounds,” said first author Dr. Ann Barnes, assistant professor of medicine at BCM and general medicine practitioner at Ben Taub General Hospital, part of the Harris County Hospital District.Most of the women who participated in the study reported that managing their hair made exercising a challenge. Some of the women who lost weight and kept it off admitted that they regained some of the weight because they thought they looked sickly or unhealthy, even though most were still considered overweight after the initial weight loss. Several cited familial pressure to indulge in high-calorie recipes passed down through generations.”If cultural norms and cultural pressures instead of health are influencing weight loss practices and dictating ideal weight, then the health care and health promotion community need to think creatively with African Americans about how to address barriers to weight management and how to define healthy weight,” said Barnes.Barnes says genetics and metabolic rates may also play a role in African-American weight problems, but basic science research into this is limited.”The registry survey will help us understand what works for African Americans, so that we can then develop weight-loss strategies to help others,” said Barnes.Others who contributed to the study include Dr. G. Kenneth Goodrick, Dr. Valory Pavlik, Jennifer Markesino, and Dr. Donna Y. Laws, all of BCM, and Dr. Wendell C. Taylor, of The University of Texas School of Public Health.Male and female African American adults 18 years of age and older who have ever lost weight may be eligible to participate in the national African-American Weight Control Registry. For more information, visit www.bcm.edu/africanamericanweightcontrol.(Source: Journal of General Internal Medicine : Baylor College of Medicine : August 2007)