Discussion on Obesity among African Americans



Obesity among African Americans

Yanet Galan

West Coast University


Obesity among African Americans

The emergence of obesity as a major healthcare problem in the United States has earned it the label of a national epidemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that more than one third of the people in the United States are overweight or obese. This number translates to about 35% of the population. Although the number of the affected is high across all ethnic groups in the country, African Americans are the most affected by chronic disease and obesity. White et al. (2017) state that African American women are disproportionately affected by obesity. Data from NHANES indicate an increase in the prevalence of obesity among African American women in the last two decades. Currently, almost 47.8% of all African American women are considered obese (White et al., 2017). Although obesity is a serious problem among the African American community, there are limited studies that seek to explore the issue and find possible solutions. It is, therefore, important to analyze some of the factors that have led to the emergence of obesity as a national epidemic and the strategies that can be used to address it.

Assari, Wisseh, and Bazargan (2019) state that increasing rates of obesity among African American communities and the rest of the country has ignited a national conversation on how to best deal with the crisis. The amount of money and other resources that are being directed towards addressing obesity has forced policy makers and citizens to look for solutions to the health crisis. For example, increasing obesity rates in the United States forced the National Health Institute to spend approximately $857 million in 2014 in obesity research (Assari et al., 2019). The amount of money and resources that have been pumped into obesity research has been o na steady increase over the years. Despite the huge investments in obesity research, the rates of obesity research remain high among African Americans. The analysis of data from CDC shows that the rate of obesity among African Americans is staggering. Therefore, the country, through the relevant agencies should give substantial attention to obesity in African American communities and the rest of the country.

Obesity Prevalence among African Americans

In their investigation of obesity prevalence in 2015, Knox-Kazimierczuk and Shockly-Smith (2017) established that the prevalence of obesity and overweight has dramatically increased since the 70s. The CDC estimates that the rate of obesity among adults in the United States has more than doubled to 33.9% from 1980 to 2008. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) also show that the rates of obesity have remained high with more than 36% of the population in the country considered to be obese or overweight (Knox-Kazimierczuk & Shockly-Smith, 2017). The NHANES used data from the studies it conducted from 2009 to 2010. The data also indicated similar trends in obesity among racial minorities like African Americans and Latinos. An analysis of the data during the same period indicates that obesity rates among African Americans increased. Currently more than 58% of African Americans are more likely to be obese or overweight than any other racial group.

Sims et al. (2020) observe that ethnic minorities from lower socioeconomic groups are disproportionately affected by obesity. African Americans, for example, are among the groups that have been disproportionately affected by obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, among other health issues. Although there is limited research on why African Americans are the most affected by various health challenges, it is possible that a host of factors come together to contribute to these wide health disparities. The prevalence of obesity among African Americans is 66% which is 1.4 times more than that in Caucasian women whose prevalence stands at 47% (Sims et al., 2020). African Americans are also at the greatest risk of developing diabetes and diseases like hypertension at an early age. Sims et al. (2020) further state that African American women have more abdominal fight than Caucasian women.

Approximately 48% of all adult African Americans are obese or overweight. It is estimated that 56.6% African American women and 37.1% men are clinically obese. The health risks that are associated with obesity makes such statistics alarming. It is, therefore, important that awareness of such risks must be spread widely so as to motivate people to change their lifestyles.

Factors leading to high obesity rates among African Americans

Several factors can be used to explain why obesity prevalence is high among African Americans than in other ethnic groups in the United States. One of the major factors that contribute to high obesity rates among African Americans is poverty of the lack of financial resources. Although 2019 saw poverty rates in the United States fall to 10.5%, the lowest since 1959, most African Americans are still affected (Avery et al., 2016). The poverty rate for African Americans was 18.8%, which is higher compared to other ethnic groups. The high poverty rates among African Americans directly and indirectly contribute to increasing obesity rates. High poverty rates among African Americans make it hard for them to access quality healthcare. The United States’ healthcare system is among the costliest in the world. As a result, individuals who are uninsured and poor find it hard to access healthcare service that may help them address the issue of obesity.

The lack of options for healthy foods is a also a contributing factor towards increasing obesity rates among African Americans. Moreno et al. (2017) state that a significant number of African Americans live in poor neighborhoods where it is hard to get healthy foods like fresh vegetables and fruits. In the last 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of food deserts throughout the country. Food deserts have been created by an increase in fast food restaurants which give people access to cheap and unhealthy foods (Schroeder et al., 2019). Individuals who live in food deserts only survive on processed foods because they cannot afford or access healthy and fresh produce. The United States Department of Agriculture estimate that more than 23 million people live in food deserts. Such people live more than one mile from a supermarket in a suburban or urban area or more than 10 miles in rural areas (Schroeder et al., 2019). Since many African Americans live in food deserts, it is hard for them to adopt a healthy diet hence increased obesity rates.

Another factor that has contributed to increased obesity rates among African Americans is the neighborhoods where most of them reside. Since a significant proportion of African Americans live in poverty, then can only afford to live in poor neighborhoods. Such neighborhoods are usually abandoned with limited infrastructure development of maintenance (Assari et al., 2019). Most of the black neighborhoods lack essential amenities such as playing fields, modern gyms and other amenities. High crime rates in these neighborhoods further discourage other people from participating in physical activities that may improve their health and maintain their body weight.

Finally, lifestyle is also another factor that contributes to the high obesity rates among African Americans. A significant number of African Americans do not live healthy lifestyles. The number of people in the African American community holding more than one job is high due to the desire to uplift themselves from poverty. As a result, most of them lack the time to focus on things that may benefit their health in the long run. For example, instead of cooking a proper meal, some would prefer buying processed food, which are not healthy. The busy lifestyles of most of the people in African American communities mean that they do not have the time to exercise or engage in other activities that may benefit them in the long run.

Possible Nursing Interventions

After understanding the obesity prevalence in African American communities and some of the factors that contribute to the high obesity rate, it is important to investigate some of the possible and effective interventions. One of the strategies or interventions that can be used to combat obesity in African American schools is school based programs. Moreno et al. (2017) state that school based programs have been used for many years impact child health and set a firm foundation and example foe the rest of the community. Preventive efforts are the key to combating obesity among African American communities. Therefore, schools offer an important setting where nurses and other health care professionals can fight obesity. School based programs are effective in the fight against obesity because they promote physical activity, supportive environments, and nutrition education (Schroeder et al., 2019). The lessons gained by students can then be transferred to the community. The use of school based programs is an effective tool against obesity because it makes it possible top imprint physical activity and proper dietary habits in children. The move further allows schools to create lifelong eating habits. An analysis of existing literature reveals mixed results when it comes to the use of school based programs to combat obesity. Interventions among African American communities that were done between 1966 and 2001 showed minimal positive weight related outcomes (Avery et al., 2016). The changes were however small and the measures that were used varied from one study to another. A study carried out by Avery et al. (2016) established that school based programs are only successful when the right parameters or measures are applied.

Another effective intervention is the implementation of healthy diet plan and physical exercises. The adoption of a healthy diet plan is currently the most effective and cost friendly intervention. Nurses working with nutritionists identify the right healthy diet plan depending on the patient and their weight. Most of the studies that have investigated the effectiveness of healthy diet plans and physical activities have reported positive results with regards to weight loss. A study cited by Schroeder et al. (2019) subjected 50 people to a two year pilot study aimed at investigating the effectiveness of healthy eating and physical exercise. Out of the fifty, 35 of the participants experienced significant weight loss within the first two years of the study. It was, therefore, evident that the implementation of healthy diet plan and physical exercise is the most effective intervention.

This study will, therefore, apply healthy diet plan and physical exercise as the main intervention in the fight against obesity in African American communities. The results will be collected and analyzed to establish if the strategy is effective or not.


Assari, S., Wisseh, C., & Bazargan, M. (2019). Obesity and polypharmacy among african american older adults: Gender as the moderator and multimorbidity as the mediator. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(12) doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16122181

Avery, C. L., Holliday, K. M., Chakladar, S., Engeda, J. C., Hardy, S. T., Reis, J. P., . . . Zeng, D. (2016). Disparities in early transitions to obesity in contemporary multi-ethnic U.S. populations. PLoS One, 11(6) doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158025

Knox-Kazimierczuk, F., & Shockly-Smith, M. (2017). African american women and the obesity epidemic: A systematic review. The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), 10(1), 76-110.

Moreno, J. P., Vézina-Im, L., Vaughan, E. M., & Baranowski, T. (2017). Impact of child summertime obesity interventions on body mass index, and weight-related behaviours: A systematic review and meta-analysis protocol. BMJ Open, 7(10) doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017144

Schroeder, K., Jason, V. A., Dhurandhar, E., Lancaster, B., Heidari, Z., Cazenave, K., . . . Erdman, P. (2019). Riding into health: A case study on an equine-assisted childhood obesity intervention. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(23) doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16234835

Sims, M., Lá Shauntá M. Glover, Gebreab, S. Y., & Spruill, T. M. (2020). Cumulative psychosocial factors are associated with cardiovascular disease risk factors and management among african americans in the jackson heart study. BMC Public Health, 20, 1-11. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-08573-0

White, M. S., Addison, C. C., Campbell Jenkins, B.,W., Bland, V., Clark, A., & LaVigne, D. A. (2017). Optimistic bias, risk factors, and development of high blood pressure and obesity among african american adolescents in mississippi (USA). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(2), 209. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14020209

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