Veronica Hendrix

*Forty.

It’s a number I can’t get out of my mind. I’m not talking about 40 acres and a mule. Nor am I talking about 40 days and 40 nights. And I am not talking about 40 ounces of a malted, adult beverage.

The number 40 that I can’t get out of my mind is the Centers for Disease Control report that 40% of all African American women are obese – compare this to  29% of Hispanic women who are obese and 24% of white women who are obese.

What a sobering statistic. That’s practically half of us. I am having a difficult time digesting this – no pun intended.

We literally lead the nation in obesity. It’s not a distinction I want African American women to be known for in terms of leadership. But it’s a distinction that should not take me or anyone by total surprise. When I take a cursory, non-scientific look around us, obesity is fairly pervasive in our culture from coast to coast. Just seeing it printed in screaming, black and white letters stings.

No longer are we simply overweight, we’ve tipped the scales into the realm of obesity. This is a new distinction we are wearing on our hips, buttocks, stomachs and thighs.

So what is obesity? Obesity is measured with a Body Mass Index-BMI-which shows the relationship of weight to height. Women with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while women with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese. Today the face of obesity is overwhelmingly an African American female – and that’s a fact.

So many reasons have been offered why African American women lead the nation in obesity. Lack of access to healthy foods, lack of nutrition education, and lastly race – specifically an overall acceptance of larger body types among African Americans as a whole – are some of the most widely held reasons.

“We know that racial and ethnic differences in obesity prevalence are likely due to both individual behaviors, as well as differences in the physical and social environment,” said Liping Pan, M.D., M.P.H., and a Center for Diseases Control epidemiologist in an interview last year.

Yeah, that may be true, but what is also true is that we are abdicating our personal responsibility in taking control of our health when night after night we get our dinner served to us and our families at a drive through window instead of served on a dinner plate at home filled with a balance of vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates.

I did a non-scientific survey at  my local supermarket and found that our shopping carts contain a mountain of cardboard boxes and shiny, supersized bags of  crunchy, salty, sweet snacks compared to shoppers in markets on the Westside of town whose carts were overwhelmingly filled with lighter fare such as fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish, poultry – you know -foods you have to cook in a real kitchen.  

There is not an African American man, woman or child who is clueless about what constitutes good nutrition versus bad. Children learn about it in school and adults get pummeled by messages in the media and by their physicians.         

“We need a combination of policy and environmental changes that can create opportunities for healthier living,” concluded Liping in that same interview.

I say we just need to get real honest and stop making excuses. Obesity overwhelmingly increases our risk of coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,  stroke, sleep apnea, cancer (endometrium, breast, colon), and gynecological   problems (abnormal periods, infertility). And this is just a partial list. Read it twice and read it often.

The bottom line is we have to get our weight into a healthy range starting today. There is a wealth of information and resources available to help you. But if you don’t know where to start, make sure half of your dinner plate is covered with  more fresh foods and vegetables, limit pre-packaged foods and get moving – walk at least 2 ½ hours a week at a minimum, and cut back on sweetened drinks and alcoholic beverages. It really is about what you eat and drink and not about some magic pill or potion. So save your money and buy real food and not the latest diet supplement you saw on an infomercial at 2:00 a.m.

The next time you pull up to a drive through or cradle a bag of chips in your arms while watching television think – “40.” It’s a number that want to reduce. You can do it. For more tips on getting control of your weight visit www.cdc.gov/healthyweight. Send me an email and let me know how you are doing. Don’t forget . . . 40.

(If you have comments about Veronica’s View, email them to [email protected])