Racism’s Contribution to Obesity

Racism may well contribute to a higher incidence of obesity among African American Women. It’s a reasonable supposition and thanks to the Black Women’s Health Study, we have new insight just published in the  American Journal of Epidemiology.

Yvette Cozier and colleagues analyzed prospective data from the Black Women’s Health Study to assess experiences of racism and subsequent development of obesity. They also looked at residential segregation and factors known to influence the risk of obesity.
Obesity Prevalence Among Women 2012

They found that experiences of racism could nearly double the risk of subsequently developing obesity, even after controlling for many factors that themselves contribute to the risk of obesity. Though segregation appears to contribute to the risk of obesity, the contribution of experiencing racism to the risk of obesity is independent of the effects of segregation.

In a newly published dissertation, Rachel Sanders examines the intersection of obesity, racism, politics, and public health. For good measure she considers the influence of gender politics as well. Her work offers up a broader context for considering disparate impacts of obesity.

These observations matter because they add to our growing understanding of the influence of racism on health. They help to explain the disproportionate impact of obesity on black women. And they tell us that simplistic “move more, eat less” interventions will not be enough to fix the health burden of obesity.

We have to address the underlying causes. And before we can really do that, we have to understand them.

Click here to read the study and here to access Sanders’ dissertation on race and the politics of obesity.

Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Mean; photograph © Fady Habib / flickr

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