a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and 30 and higher is obese. The waist circumference measurement is used to determine obesity-related health risks specific to abdominal fat.
Despite glaring evidence, many African Americans have a poor perception of what is considered to be a healthy weight and fail to recognize their weight as problematic. Dr. Ian Smith, medical and diet expert for VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club and author of Extreme Fat Smash Diet, explains, “This speaks to the core concept of self-definition and what we think we look like.” To change the tide, Smith insists, the imperative is to change the cultural mind-set that promotes and sustains the behavioral habits that cause obesity. The curvaceous, full-figured body is the feminine ideal in black culture, which is why many black women are resistant to weight loss; they equate maintaining a healthy weight with losing their curves and by extension their attractiveness. “There is a tendency to sexualize weight,” Smith notes. “You can be full-figured and still be healthy. We shouldn’t be defined by a condition that is damaging to our health, but instead by our courage, inner and outer beauty, and our vigor for life.”
While a variety of factors contribute to obesity and being overweight, the root causes remain the same: lack of exercise and poor nutritional choices. The consequences of obesity present a smorgasbord of debilitating illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and certain cancers, which have a domino effect on the body’s physiology. What has been commonly considered “a little sugar” has now morphed into a runaway epidemic affecting an estimated 18 million Americans, with blacks at a 1.6 greater risk of developing diabetes than whites.
Obesity leads to diabetic complications which can include stroke, kidney failure, amputation, and blindness. “Obesity is one of the primary causes of type 2 diabetes, which increases the occurrence of cardiovascular disease, resulting in an 80% death rate from heart attacks,” says Dr. Christopher J.W. B. Leggett, director of cardiology for Medical Associates of North Georgia in Canton, Georgia. Excess abdominal fat is highly problematic. It expands, releasing chemicals that ensure its continued existence. This in turn creates a resistance to the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar. Increased insulin-resistance exhausts the pancreatic gland, resulting in high blood-sugar levels, which sets the stage for diabetes.
Additionally, the cardio vasculature of the body is impacted by elevated cholesterol and lipids in the blood. A buildup of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and other food slush form plaque within the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood to the heart. This deposit eventually narrows the opening of the blood vessels that supply organs with oxygen and nutrients. A rupture in the coronary artery causes a heart attack; ruptures in the carotid arteries can cause stroke or thrombosis, the formation of a blood clot within a blood vessel. Blockages in the lower extremities often lead to poor circulation, joint pain, and even amputation.
An American Cancer Society study shows that up to 90,000 cancer