Racism linked to obesity - study

2014-04-20 20:50
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Johannesburg - Ever wonder why some black women are heavier than their white counterparts? Well, new ­research suggests that it’s because they experience racism more often, City Press reports.

The study published in the highly ­respected American Journal of Epidemiology last month shows that black women who ­frequently ­experience racism find comfort in food.

The study, conducted by the Slone Epidemiology Centre at Boston University in the US between 1997 and 2009, surveyed 59000 African-American women.

During the survey, participants were asked about the frequency of everyday experiences of racism, such as ­receiving worse service in restaurants and shops, and whether they had been treated unfairly because of their race on the job, in finding housing, or by the police.

Investigators found that women who reported consistently more experiences of racism over the 12-year period ate too much fattening food and were 69% more likely to become obese.

The Black Women’s Health Study collected information on lifestyle factors, experiences of racism, height and weight and other factors using questionnaires they distributed to their subjects twice a year.

Researchers found that experiences of racism contributed to obesity.

This is because both animal and human studies show that chronic exposure to stress can result in disrupted hormonal functions.

This in turn can in turn influence the accumulation of excess body fat.

Although the study was conducted among Americans, ­Johannesburg dietician Lynn Odendaal said we can learn a lot from it.

“Racism is still common in this country and the obesity rate among women is reaching alarming levels.”

She explained that the link between stress and binge eating had long been proved.

“We know that some people binge eat to try to cope with uncomfortable feelings and emotions. This would explain why women who consistently experienced racism turned to comfort food, which leads to obesity,” Odendaal said.

Obesity ranking

In October 2011, Compass Group Southern Africa placed South Africa third in the world in terms of obesity rankings after the US and Britain.

Odendaal said obesity is one of the country’s most serious health problems.

“We see more and more women - especially black women - being classified as obese and overweight. The tragic part about this is that obesity is a risk factor for a number of health conditions including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, ­musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers.”

A survey conducted by the Medical Research Council found that 61% of South Africans are overweight, obese or morbidly obese.

The survey results, which were released in 2012, also revealed that 70% of South African women older than 35 were overweight or obese, and 33% of them are black.

Read more on:    racism  |  health

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