Are Black Women Obese Because We Want to Be?

Written by

Maya Rockeymoore
Maya Rockeymoore Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a social change nonprofit dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments. She is also the co-chair of the Commission to Modernize Social Security. A regular guest on radio and television shows, Dr. Rockeymoore has appeared on NPR, CNN, Black Entertainment Television, ABC World News Tonight, Fox News, Al Jazeera and C-SPAN.

There are few stories that cause me to sprint to Facebook and Twitter, but a widely read New York Times opinion editorial by Alice Randall arguing that black women are the most obese group in America because “we want to be” caused me to do just that. Curious to hear what my African-American sister-friends had to say about Randall’s claim that we are large because we are seeking acceptance from black men who prefer “sugar down below,” I was surprised when the response to my posting was met with… radio silence.

I re-posted the article with an appeal for a debate about a topic that Michelle Obama, the most visible and admired African-American woman on the planet, has been talking about for years — albeit in the context of the alarming childhood obesity epidemic. The few responses I received highlighted several themes: 1) cultural attitudes against skinny women are present in black popular culture and at home but are not universally shared; 2) psychosocial factors, such as when black women use food as a crutch for depression and loneliness, play a role; 3) environmental factors have a lot to do with it; and, 4) having a cultural preference for curvier bodies does not translate into wanting to be fat.

As the director of a program that focuses on helping policymakers address childhood obesity, I have long been interested in understanding the complex interplay of factors that contribute to the epidemic in communities of color. What has been clear from my work is that a large body of research shows that the environment plays a significant role in shaping the choices that people make.

What do I mean? Just think about being stuck in an airport where your only options include fast food and few opportunities for physical activity. This scenario is a fact of life in many lower-income communities where people of color disproportionately reside.
There is no doubt that where you live can determine how well you live. Neighborhoods where African Americans are concentrated are less likely to have parks, green spaces, swimming pools, recreational facilities and sports clubs. And for those communities that do have access, the evidence suggests that parks and recreational facilities are more likely to be poorly maintained and perceived of as less safe.

Read the full article in The Huffington Post

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