Caught up in the frenetic grind of her fashion industry job, Allison Ferrell, 41, paid little attention to what she ate. As director of production, logistics, and operations for Abaeté, a New York-based women’s dress collection, lunch was a luxury she couldn’t afford. “I was crazed and I couldn’t spare the time. So if I didn’t eat by 1 p.m., that was it for the rest of the day.” After a 2005 surgery to remove fibroids left her with a delicate stomach, Ferrell avoided a litany of foods and routinely skipped meals.
Her erratic eating habits kicked her body into pre-starvation mode. Not knowing when it would receive the necessary nutrients, her body stopped burning calories and began to store food reserves, causing an increase in body fat. According to the American Council on Exercise, the average body fat range for women is 25% to 31%; 32% and above is obese. Ferrell measured almost 39%. Accustomed all her life to being thin, she was now flummoxed by having gained 15 pounds. “I’d had a good run, but my negative habits were catching up with me and it was time to take care of myself,” she says.
Ferrell is hardly alone in her struggle to manage her weight. The American Obesity Association estimates that approximately 127 million adults are overweight. The escalating phenomenon of obesity has become a national crisis, and nowhere is it more evident than in African American communities. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show nearly 52% of black women are obese–the highest of all ethnic groups–and about 30% of black men are obese.
THE PRICE OF OBESITY
America’s burgeoning waistlines are also having an impact on the business world. According to a study by Duke University Medical Center, obese workers filed double the number of workers’ compensation claims, had almost seven times higher medical costs from such claims, anbe,be,d lost about 13 times more days of work from job injury or illness than did non-obese workers. Obese workers also have up to 21% higher healthcare costs than those who are at a healthy weight.
The study, titled Obesity and Workers’ Compensation, concludes that there’s a direct connection between Body Mass Index (BMI) and the rate of health insurance claims. Dr. Truls Østbye of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Duke University Medical Center points out that some of the more common insurance claims among overweight employees involved shoulder, wrist, lower back, hip, ankle, and knee injuries. “What surprised us was not the fact that there was a relationship between obesity and workers’ comp claims and time off work for work-related injuries, but that the effect was so strong,” says Østbye, the study’s lead author.
BMI is a widely used formula that uses weight and height measurements to assess total body fat and provides healthy weight ranges for all ethnicities. BMI is also an indicator of heightened risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related illnesses. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. However,