Why Are 4 Out Of 5 Black Women Obese, Overweight?

This statistic, from a BU Today report on fighting obesity, is enough to ruin your morning: “No population in the United States has a higher obesity rate than African American women, four out of five of whom are overweight or obese, according to a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

No population has a higher overweight and obesity rate than African-American women (Spree2010/flickr)

The causes of this alarming obesity rate are various and complex and range from genes and diet to socioeconomic status and the environment, according to Julie Palmer, a senior epidemiologist at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center who has coordinated the Black Women’s Health Study since 1995. In the BU piece, Palmer details some of these causes and potential fixes:

On Diet

“…when the women were asked how often they ate out and what type of fast food they chose—burgers, pizza, Mexican, Chinese, fried chicken, or fried fish—those who frequently chose the first option had the most consequences. “We found that eating burgers from fast food or other restaurants definitely increased risk for obesity,” she says. “This was after controlling for soft drinks and after controlling for total fat. There’s something about red meat; we don’t know exactly what it is. And then there’s something about eating that type of meal and everything that goes with it. It was clearly worse than eating the fried fish, fried chicken, or the pizza.”

Palmer published their findings in biannual newsletters sent to study participants, with the recommendation that they substitute diet soda or water for regular soda and order pizza or Mexican, which has more nutrients and fewer calories than burgers. “We’re trying to identify things that people can actually do,” she says. “Because you can’t just say, ‘Lose weight,’ or, ‘Don’t eat so much.’ That’s really hard to do.”

On Motherhood

“Childbearing also proved a factor in weight gain. In a 2003 paper published in Nature, Palmer and her colleagues reported that African American women who have children young, are overweight at the time of pregnancy, or gain an excess amount of weight during pregnancy have a higher prevalence of obesity compared to white women.

And while they don’t have any results yet, the BWHS team is trying to learn if breast-feeding helps a woman “reset her metabolism” to decrease weight gain following pregnancy. The percentage of black infants who are breast-fed has shot up markedly in recent years, but it still lags compared to other groups. According to the CDC, 65 percent of black infants were breast-fed compared to 80 percent of Mexican American and 79 percent of white infants in 2005 and 2006. Palmer hopes her group’s research will encourage more black women to breast-feed and persuade policy makers to pass legislation facilitating breast-feeding in the workplace.”

On Discrimination

“Psychological and social factors also have an impact. “Women who report more experiences of racism have been shown to be more likely to become obese,” Palmer says. About 55 percent of study participants reported experiencing discrimination at work, according to a July 2012 BWHS newsletter. Palmer also found that participants who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods—where grocery stores are scarce, parks and sidewalks aren’t maintained, or crime is rampant—often gained weight or were obese.”

The Bottom Line

‘…children everywhere need to be taught healthy eating habits. Cities must clean up parks and quash violence to encourage physical activity. And urban planners should design more walker-friendly neighborhoods.

“We need to fund more small-scale or local-level efforts to help people make these changes in their lives,” Palmer says.’

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Clifton Richard

    A sedentary lifestyle devoid of exercise & healthy eating habits, is the main culprit.

  • nevenera

    The original studies on what is a healthy weight were done in the 70 on only white women. Thus 80% of black women might be overweight or obese if compared to white women, but it might be useful to do a study in black women to find what overweight and obese levels that are actually relevant to that group.

    When you get numbers like 80% you know there is a problem with either the statistics or the ruler that is used to measure. Other research studies showing that being overweight for black women is not medically as harmful as it is for white women, and that obesity again is not as harmful for black women as for white women again shows that perhaps the wrong ruler is being used.

    For example on article (Black Women Live Longest When They’re “Overweight”)
    noted that:
    “But if we look at the details, we see that only for the very fattest
    black women — the outliers — is being overweight associated with higher
    mortality. What the statistics actually show is that black
    women, more than anyone else, have an elevated risk of death if they’re
    in the “normal weight” category, and live longest if they’re in the
    “overweight” category.”

    Which again indicates that the wrong ruler is being used to measure black women, black women and…not all black women are the same, black women recently emigrated from some African countries like Somalia and Ethiopia might actually on average be smaller than most other women.

    When 80% of a population is abnormal, then something is very wrong with your definition of normal.

  • Clifton Richard

    It’s the lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle. You can add to the fact, the embracing of a backwards thinking rationale of being BBW,or “thick”. The consumption of unhealthy foods plays a culprit role,as well. Numerous studies & even commonsense should tell you about the many negative effects/consequences of being overly heavy or obese. The CDC(Centers for Disease Control) has also concluded such findings. Particularly,you’d find a sorta “fat acceptance” in American society,specifically. It appears to be getting worse. People are too set in their destructive ways. It’ll take an affliction in order for some to wake up. High blood pressure,heart problems,cancer,etc,etc,etc…unfortunately. It’s also a burden on the tax payer & healthcare insurance industry. There’s nothing positive nor beautiful about it.


    Black women have no “shame.”

    They don’t care that they are fat, ugly, smelly, loud-mouthed, racist, nasty … spread for every feral black male in the ghetto-hood etc.

    They have no shame that they have 10 babies by 10 different ferals and that they can’t afford to support a single one of them.

    They have no shame that they have never worked a day in their lives and that they never will.

    Pure scum.

    • Gerelle Redeemed Gleaton


  • washingtonsquareparksucks

    why do these women think its ok?

  • Russell Turner

    You can’t blame BW’s obesity on racism. It is a cultural problem; mainly the fact that they bought into feminism more fervently than non-black women… so black women, quite frankly, don’t care how humiliating it is for them to represent our ethnicity witch such a level of physical mediocrity… It’s akin to not bathing, if you ask me.

  • Apa

    I admit, I’m white, that having been said I would like to point out African-Americans have a far healthier view of themselves and their bodies than whites. They are FAR LESS likely to suffer from an eating disorder than whites.

    Before you accept the measurement of obesity, maybe you should look more closely at who and how the ‘standard graph’ was created. It was created by life insurance companies and health insurance companies.. you know, the ones who have been making huge profits by sticking heavier people with higher rates.. it might be a bit self-serving.

    Through history larger women had been the beautiful ones, only in modern times has that idea fallen away. I think we need to look at the whole person, not just a number on a scale. If someone is active, and comfortable… if their blood pressure is reasonable, and other indicators of health are fine, who cares what a graph says.

    • Nikki

      Actually, I think a lot of black women suffer from binge eating disorders.

      The reason why I got fat was because I was depressed and ate junk food to cope with my unhappiness. I was 16 when this happened and now I’m working on trying to lose the weight. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

  • Ks

    I am amazed, appalled and disgusted at the comments here. Is this a WBUR audience? I am going to have to find another source for news. Obesity is an American problem don’t forget that. Some of you should look back and read your comments-shameful and wrong on so many levels.

  • memcats

    Eating an unhealthy diet and the lack of working out is the main reason for the obesity that exists among black women. If you can’t afford a gym membership it doesn’t cost anything to walk in the park or your neighborhood.

    • Phyllis Craine

      Sure great idea as long as your neighborhood is safe and you won’t be the victim of a drive-by shooting

      • tatum635


      • memcats

        Yeah stop making excuses. I am sure they could drive to a safe place to walk if they fear waling in their neighborhood. They could also become mall walkers.

        • KH

          You mean at one of the numerous indoor malls in Boston…or even available via public transportation…those malls? Because there’s only I can think of and that’s in Cambridge.

          • memcats

            I am not familiar with the malls in Boston, but I would think that a person could find a safe place to walk. Bottom line you can’t eat badly and don’t exercise and expect to be healthy. Most people who are over weight can lose it. And while I am going it is not only African American women the brothers are also greatly over weight. No wonder African Americans lead the pack in diseases. It’s time for is to take control and get healthy.

    • SolDeus

      If BW are going to spend hundreds of dollars on fake hair, then can spend a few hundred on a basic workout machine if walking the neighborhood is a bad idea.

  • AMW

    well you sound very racist, and if any of you people on here actually did some research yourself, it is genetically shown that AAW have lower RMR than their counterparts, and even those that have attempted weight loss are not as successful as whites and hispanics. I could go on and on, but this board seems to be for bored racists with nothing better to do.

    • StupidPeopleRock

      What a crock of shit. Nothing but excuses. If black women are too stupid to stop shoveling shit into their maws, and can’t seem to walk farther than the distance from the couch to the fridge and back, then fuck ‘em.

  • Tina Brown

    Well, black women think it’s cool to not care about health or weight. They also love (defiantly at that) to give men the opposite of what they are attracted to. A part of me also thinks that they don’t believe there would be any benefit to being healthy because even if they’re fit, they still won’t be very attractive by most people’s standards. in essence, they have no self esteem. They’ll never admit this, but why else would you find pleasure in treating your body like crap and knowing that you are doing so.

    • StupidPeopleRock

      The vast majority of black women just look like silver-back gorilla’s. Is it any wonder the black men are going after white women?

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidblakejones David Blake Jones

    Why in the world does our govt. give subsidies for beef, dairy, corn, and other unhealthy agricultural products and then have Michelle Obama exhort us to eat better? And why are poor people able to use food stamps to buy junk food?

    • Facts

      There are more white recipients of food stamps benefits because their are more white people in the population than there are black people. Source: U.S Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census. White, not Hispanic 35.7%: African American, not Hispanic 22% are on food stamps.

      • SolDeus

        Another fool who doesn’t understand statistics. There are many more white people than black and despite that fact, the percentages are only 38% to 22%? If white people were as lazy as blacks, the country would already be bankrupt.

    • northroad1

      The subsidies are for the farmers and their respective industries. Controlling food prices is a secondary effect.

    • Reebokanonymous

      You think beef, dairy, and corn are unhealthy?

  • redgirl813

    Why does no one ever mention the fact that so many more Americans are on anti depression meds that cause people to gain weight?

    • http://www.facebook.com/davidblakejones David Blake Jones

      cause the drug companies might lose profits

  • badu

    You’re titled said “4 out of 5 obese” when the actual figure is 80% overweight + obese. I note the anti measures said nothing about ending racism. Nor did anyone bother to speak to actual Black Women themselves. Obesity is always an excuse to bypass the actual people and centre things on the concerns of the observer. Something BW know all too well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1236181984 Kevin Snyder

      Actually, they did talk to black women. And if they don’t care if they’re overweight, then I sure don’t, either.

      But don’t dare blame RACISM! for your own shortcomings. It’s not Bush’s fault.

      • badu

        Wow, the article mentioned discrimination. You people really need your leg up, don’t you?

      • kh

        Actually, researchers have studied other health outcomes by race, for example low birth weight babies. Even when they accounted for all factors – education,health, weight, age, socioeconomic class, diet of the mother…black women still disproportionately had low- birth weight babies. In fact, a white female smoker had a lower chance than a black non-smoker. The researchers’ final decision? That racism and the lingering, daily impact of the stress of racism caused the health outcome. Please, please, please do not deny the experience of other people when you have no idea what you are talking about.

    • http://www.facebook.com/davidblakejones David Blake Jones

      Racism is real, but so is making excuses for failure. Maybe too many are willing to blame their insecurity in the workplace on racism as opposed to lower skills, and effort?

    • http://www.facebook.com/mark.ridley.167 Mark Ridley

      Duh – 4 out of 5 is the SAME as 80%.

      • badu

        REPEAT “80% OVERWEIGHT AND OBESE” not 4 out of 5 OBESE as it said in the title. Gosh, learn to read.

    • Barbara

      Blaming other people for one’s own problems with obesity and/or being overweight is not going to solve anything. The biggest factor in getting to a healthy weight is realizing one’s own need for a lifestyle change. If you’re obese, nobody force fed you to make you that way. You picked up the fork and neglected exercise on your own accord. Racism certainly didn’t make you obese.

      • badu

        And no one forced you to not know what you’re talking about. Being fat or any other size is a part of a person’s overall metabolic state or profile. It has been demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that weight loss dieting simply doesn’t work.

        There are potential routes to changing ones metabolic state, including weight, but those haven’t been investigated fully. The bitter and easily manipulated like yourself have helped to obscure them. You have been well used, now please shut up and let progress happen.

        • Barbara

          Are you serious? Honey, I study this stuff for a living. You just don’t know that much about humans and weight.

          No, “dieting” doesn’t work. But you know what does? Regular exercise and healthy eating. Making a permanent LIFESTYLE CHANGE is what works. The simple truth is that if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. But if you burn more calories than you consume, you WILL lose weight. It takes time and perseverance, but everyone is capable of it.

          Yes, some people are more prone to being overweight than others, but the basic calories consumed/calories burned equation is the same for everybody. It may be harder for some to lose weight, but it is not impossible.

          Now, in my field, I’ve come to find that successful weight loss really has nothing to do with gender or race– it has to do with personal outlook and motivation. The successful individuals are ALWAYS those who stop making excuses and blaming others and accept responsibility for their own state of being. This empowers them to take action and do something about it, and only then are they able to make the necessary lifestyle changes to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

          So if you want to lose weight, quit blaming the world for your condition. Accept the fact that you alone are the one in charge of your weight, and you alone can change it. Don’t go on temporary diets, because those just don’t work. Learn about healthy foods and the right portion sizes, and gradually change your eating habits to reflect that. Start getting regular exercise. Most importantly of all, don’t stop any of these things once you lose weight. Otherwise, you will gain it all back. Empower yourself, and change your life around. You can do it. Everyone is capable of it.

          • Blade

            Well said Barbara… I’m a black man and I totally agree with everything you said. I hope my sisters take heed to your advice. Truth hurts sometimes, but is neccessary for positive change.

  • Lawrence

    Just from my observations from riding the T everyday, these women have terrible eating habits. Additionally they feed their young children fast food, even as young as 3 or 4.

    Misinformed and undereducated are possible reasons. Funny, I did not see those listed in the article. Also I believe they could be victims of advertising, if they are watching TV everyday.

    • bee

      And you sir are a part of the discrimination pool. How dare you imply black women are the least uneducated and watch the most tv out of all the groups in America and thats why they are the most obese. wtf Thats why its not mentioned; its an ignorant stereotypical perspective. Yes perhaps they do feed their children fast food, but its better than no food. The food market is privileged. Studies show Black women get paid the least too. Guess thats cause they watch tv too much too. You ever seen a wholefoods in the hood? Me either. See Mickey D’s though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.highbocker Jeff Highbocker

    lack of work and exercise, huge caloric intake in comparison to the lack of caloric burn-off, and reproductive behavior (witness teen pregnancy rates, etc) it is really simple.