The study focused on nearly 200 overweight 25- to 44-year-old black women who received care from community health centers in North Carolina that serve predominately poor patients. Overweight is defined as body mass index, or BMI, of 25 to 29. Obese is BMI of 30 or higher.
One group was given the typical standard of care from their primary doctors, including suggestions to lose weight and healthy lifestyle. The women in the other group were encouraged to prevent weight gain and were provided individual goals for diet using registered dietitians along with a YMCA membership and physical activity goals.
At 12 months, more than half of those encouraged to lose weight actually gained weight, whereas only one-third of the other group did.
“This study demonstrates that weight maintenance is easier to achieve than weight loss,” says Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine and nutrition fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “However, this is true in persons of all ethnic backgrounds, not just those of African descent.”
Historically, weight loss programs are not as effective among black women compared to white women and men, says Gary Bennett, lead author of the study and director of obesity prevention at Duke University. Therefore, he says, his findings are promising.
“There’s not the same social pressure for black women to lose weight in the black community,” he explains. “If 80 percent of the black female population is overweight, then that’s normal. So, being normal weight is abnormal.”
Stanford agrees. “Black women have higher weight misperception and more satisfaction with heavier weight than other groups. Even thought the women in the study were all classified as overweight or Class I obese, they were happy with maintaining their size than might be seen in a comparable group of Caucasian women.”
This article by Dr. Tyeese Gaines continues at theGrio.