Research published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine this month found that white adolescent girls benefit from exercise more than their black peers.
At first glance, that may sound like researchers are saying black girls are wasting their time exercising. But we know that is not true. I haven't talked with a single fat person who didn't know that lack of exercise was a contributing factor to her increased fat cells.
The research gave various reasons for the differences in girls that age, including early onset of puberty for black girls which coincides "with reduction in physical activity levels among girls," and a phenomenon showing black girls and black women having lower levels of fat oxidation rates, or rates of breaking down fat molecules for energy.
In other words, when we get fat cells, our bodies try to keep them.
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So, it takes more than just exercise for black girls to avoid the rates of obesity many older black women are modeling. Black women have some of the highest rates of obesity in the United States, as well as incidents of diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease. Most of our chronic illnesses are weight related.
So the best, most common-sense solution is what experts have been saying for years: The secret to weight reduction and control is diet and exercise. Not one or the other, but both.
We know that. Although the research results may be news, how to lose weight and keep it off is not.
I think there is something more going on and I'm not the only one who does.
Alice Randall of Nashville wrote a column for The New York Times last month that said " ... too many experts who are involved in the discussion of obesity don't understand something crucial about black women and fat: many black women are fat because we want to be."
When my sister and I reached adolescence, our mother made us wear girdles. We weren't fat at all, but what flesh we did have tended to be curvy in spots.
By squishing those fat cells and making them immobile, our mother hoped to have us avoid catcalls from black men such as, "It must be jelly because jam don't shake like that."
Randall points out that there have been poems and songs written about the allure of voluptuous women. Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian are current examples of curvy women who are admired. My father never seemed to mind the extra pounds our mother carried.
So, obesity among black women isn't all scientific. There are cultural issues as well. We've just taken it too far.
Ladies, things have to change. In fact, I'm seeing those changes in my daughter's generation. Kick-boxing, boot camp and organic foods seem to be more of a staple to them than Spanx and fried food.
We have taken curvy to a new level that is killing us, and it will kill our daughters as well.
"What we need is a body-culture revolution in black America," Randall wrote, and I agree.
That's why two or three nights a week you can find me and my friend Billie Goldsmith at the William Wells Brown Community Center, threatening to kill an exercise instructor or a fitness trainer.
Last week, my friend excitedly told me that because of a new diet and exercise routine, her doctors have taken her off of insulin injections. She was also released three months early by her orthopedic surgeon after recent knee replacement surgery.
And the only complaints I'm hearing from my husband because of my recent weight loss is about the new clothes I'm buying with his wallet.
"I expect obesity will be like alcoholism," Randall wrote. "People who know the problem intimately find their way out, then lead a few others. The few become millions."
I hope so. We need to change our lifestyles, our eating habits and our self image. Then just watch the pounds melt away, regardless of our fat oxidation rates.