Home Health News “Healthy” Waist May Be Larger For Black Women

“Healthy” Waist May Be Larger For Black Women

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So… let’s take a look at what we have here:

(Reuters Health) – The definition of a ‘healthy’ waistline may have a bit more wiggle room for African-American women than for white women, a new study suggests.

As it stands, men are considered to have abdominal obesity when their waistline tops 40 inches; for women, the threshold is 35 inches. Abdominal obesity, in turn, raises a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Another way to look at the weight-health question is through body mass index (BMI) — a measure of weight in relation to height. People with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese, and they generally have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease than thinner people.

But in the new study, researchers found that African-American women might have somewhat higher thresholds for a risky waist size and BMI.

For the study, reported in the journal Obesity, researchers tried to estimate the BMI and waist size that best separated people at relatively high risk for diabetes and heart disease from those at lower risk.

High risk in this case meant having two or more risk factors for those diseases — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or elevated blood sugar.

For white women and men of both races, a BMI of about 30 was the threshold — the same as the standard value. But among black women, it was 33.

The same pattern was seen when it came to waist size. For men and white women, the waistline thresholds in this study were close to the 40-inch and 35-inch standards, respectively.

Among African-American women, however, the “high-risk” waistline was slightly more than 38 inches — 3 inches larger than the standard threshold.

That suggests that the average black woman can be heavier than her white counterpart before her risk for heart disease and diabetes start to climb dramatically.

Still, more research is needed to show that, according to lead researcher Dr. Peter T. Katzmarzyk, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

He explained that this study looked at participants at point in time only, and studies following people over time — looking at how different levels of obesity predict the odds of developing heart problems and diabetes — are now necessary.

“We do not want to make too many practical implications at this point,” Katzmarzyk told Reuters Health in an email.

He also stressed that the findings do not mean that African-American women with a BMI below 33 or a waistline under 38 inches have “no risk” of obesity-related health problems.

“What the study does show is that there is a strong relationship between obesity and risk factors in white and African-American men and women,” Katzmarzyk said. “This relationship is robust in all groups, so no one is immune from the effects of obesity.”


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Danielle February 4, 2011 - 4:21 PM

I would need to read the study in its entirety before I can comment. There were studies to show that AA’s have heavier bone density and are more apt to be muscled so if you take a WW and a BW with the same measurements, the BW will weigh more.
BMI takes into account your weight, but not racial factors so it can be reasoned that AAs can be heavier (and therefore have a higher BMI) but not have as high a risk of obesity related issues.
That said, I feel that it can be used as a crutch for some. You know kinda like ‘im big boned I dont need to lose weight’.
But also I think things like BMI needs to take account proven differences in race, gender etc

Jas February 4, 2011 - 11:09 PM

I agree and I also read a study about black women being more muscle dense than white women.

I’m sure that this most recent study has validity, but my fear is that some may use it to excuse obesity. We have life threatening issues with weight and health within our race and I believe this study is helpful in changing the way we view health (please abolish BMI) and makes it easier for women to make healthy decisions about weightloss and fitness (sometime you have to ignore the scale). As far as a larger waist being ‘healthier’ for us, it depends on the individual.Personally, there’s only a 10lb differnce now, as a size 10, than when I was a size 18 (yeah weight training!) and this study falls in line with what I’ve seen and experienced getting fit.
Bottom line, I hope more women use this study to help themselves get fit mentally and ignore the fads and social pressure of ‘dropping pounds’ and realize there is more to health than the numbers on the scale.

JaydensMOM January 14, 2013 - 12:09 PM

I hope we don’t, like you said, use this as a crutch.

I really think that body FAT composition is a great tool. After a body fat test I found that if I lose the fat that I need to and retain/gain muscle, I will be at a healthy /athletic 19% body fat when I get down to 195 lbs at 5’9″. Yes, 195. According to the BMI chart I would STILL be overweight with a 28.8 BMI. It’s really time to rethink the scale.

Danielle February 4, 2011 - 4:24 PM

My doctor told me something like this a few years ago from her personal observations. I’m 5’9″ and the recommended weight for me is around 150. I freaked out because I would look SICK at 150. My doctor told me that Black women simply can’t go by those standards because when they were made, they didn’t have us in mind. I’m glad that some research is going into this ^_^

Curvy Duva February 4, 2011 - 4:30 PM

From where I stand as a public health practitioner. I believe that these types fo studies should have been conducted a long time ago. Because each race’s gentic makeup is totally different it is not unreasonable to think that the standards used to determeine “healthyness” should be different as well.

Nicole June 30, 2011 - 6:58 PM

“each race’s gentic makeup is totally different”

We are not all exactly the same, but that is a really wild statement. Have you studied genetics? I want to say more, but that’s really off-topic. I just couldn’t let this slide though.

Jem July 5, 2011 - 9:27 AM

Ok, Nicole? Thank you, I was thinking the same thing.

That said, I think this deserves more investigation. Interesting results.

Tracy February 4, 2011 - 7:48 PM

I think these findings are a gift and a curse. Though we all already know that BMI alone is somewhat of a crock, I’m glad that it was addressed that Black women won’t necessarily fall into the traditional ranges set forth by the scale. HOWEVER, I’d hate for Black women to hang their hats on that. I’d hate for them to do a happy dance, shout “We told you so!” and think they have “wiggle room” to let their waistlines expand. Some women may decide to use this as an excuse to or reason for being heavier. Interesting study, nonetheless.

Veronica February 4, 2011 - 8:38 PM

Agreed with Danielle above.

I once visited with a doctor who told me I needed to get down to 125 pounds. O_O I was 125 pounds in seventh grade, and I was LEGIT skinny, and this was before my body really started developing. (Needless to say, I didn’t visit that doctor again.)

I WHOLLY believe the traditional studies on weight, body size, etc., are extremely Western-centric with not many black folk in mind. I know plenty of black women who have tiny waistlines and washboard abs (behold, the world of dancers), but their arms, backsides and legs are still muscular and “thick.” So yeah, I think this research is a step in the right (and more realistic) direction.

Daphne February 6, 2011 - 2:12 AM

I don’t quite understand the perception that this study would cause black women to be less diligent about their health (or rather, less than they already are). Is there really a significant difference between a 35 inch waist and a 38 inch waist? To the extent that a black woman would think, “Watch out now! I got three inches of wiggle room – time to splurge on some cake! I can eat whatever I want!” I’m just gonna ignore the BMI comparison, since I have serious issues with it as a indicator of health.

I don’t know – black women who have been conscientious about their health may breathe a sigh of relief over the wiggle room, but the woman with serious weight (and possibly health) issues is likely nowhere close to a 38 inch waist ANYWAY. And those who have distorted mentalities about their size and health had them before this singular study came out.

I do think this study reinforces the fact that, at least in the United States, black women and white women don’t have parallel existences when it comes to health and weight. We never have, so it’s troubling to me, when I read, with increasing frequency on other sites, how black women need to get their game tight like white women (or even Asian women to a lesser degree). Thank GOODNESS Erika has never fallen for the okey-doke in that regard.

Holly July 24, 2011 - 12:25 PM

My first thought upon reading this post was that the sample size of Afro-American women was probably much lower than the sample size of Euro-American women; however after looking at the abstract for the study I see this is not the case (1789 AA women vs. 1096 EA women). I think that I would have to see at least one or two more corroborating studies before I gave this study too much weight. I’m really glad they’re finally researching medical differences between the sexes and at least two races; I hate thinking that most of the information we get about health are based off studies of primarily white men.

Crystal September 29, 2011 - 9:18 AM

I think this makes perfect sense. Remember, the rules are already slightly different for Asian women as their waist size should be smaller than the average study so why wouldn’t it make sense for african american women to be larger. I can already see that my body frame is larger than a majority of women of other ethnicities and I know for a fact that I way far more than I look just because of how my body is built. I am happy to see studies that are beginning to recognize the differences in body makeup between races. Maybe now we will all begin to engage in healthier practices and strive towards weight loss goals that are healthy and appropriate for our unique body types.

Jewel November 14, 2011 - 5:38 PM

Hmmm I am not sure what to make of the study. I think everyone needs to be working toward being as healthy as they can. I don’t want to make any excuses for my weight/BMI because someone told me I was ok.
As I recall, no one ever told me my weight was a problem when I technically was overweight for the past ten years.
I think we have to take our health into our own matters.
Thanks for all you do Erika.
Jumps off soapbox 🙂

V July 10, 2012 - 9:49 AM

This is confusing because it seems that we are the ones getting diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure at faster rates. First we do not benefit from exercise, now its black women can have larger waistlines. The larger the waistline means you are prone to more diseases. I think that these studies are pushing for black women to be unhealthy. I do not think we have a more muscle mass than other ethnic groups.

Shani Nicole October 2, 2012 - 2:59 PM

BW are more prone to disease because of habits, I can understand how the study came up with it’s findings but you have to look at diet as well as other cultural factors.

Patricia August 30, 2015 - 9:30 AM

That’s because a lot of us..eat foods based on taste and not nutrition. We need to educate ourselves on the importance of eating healthier.

Tina October 2, 2012 - 5:07 PM

There have been times when I have really beaten myself up and felt discouraged because despite a lot of hard work and feeling better physically, the numbers still called me obese. I think this study validates the lived experience of many Black women, but agree with those (including the authors) who reject making some practical claim about the findings. Most Black women, like most North Americans in general should eat more real food and be more active everyday.

Joan November 6, 2012 - 8:40 PM

Being an inshape white woman, from my own
experience in high school and in college, I have to
conclude that there are obvious differences between
white women and black women that are in shape.
Black women tend to be heavier, more muscular in
arms and breasts, and are definitely much stronger
than most white women. The lighter white women
tend to excel in gymnastics but are clearly at a
disadvantage in any physical contact sport such as
wrestling. White women seem to do well at swimming
and long distance running, but the black women
do better in almost every other track and field event.
So trying to be objective, I have to conclude that
black women do have a distinct physical advantage
over a white woman. One big embarassment for me
came when I was a 17 yearold senior in high school
and tried to wrestle this 14 yearold black freshmen,
who at about the same height, probably had 10 lb
or so on me. The boys of course were all enjoying
seeing me get totally humiliated with the ending
coming with my rear in the air and me submitting.
She ended it with a big grin and a hard slap in the
you know where. Can’t say I enjoyed it or didn’t
because I was so surprised at her shear strength in
the arms and legs. My moronic boyfriend was all
grins so he probably enjoyed it.

Sherron February 14, 2013 - 11:53 PM

My height is 5’2 & according to the BMI charts I should weigh 135 or less meaning I have to lose 65 pounds to be healthy. I weighed 145 at age 16. I am 35 now & a mom. I need to know what is a healthy goal weight to work toward that is also realistic. I do not want to lose my womanly curves. I want to lose inches off of my arms, waist & thighs but keep my D-cup sized breasts & my 45 inch butt while losing weight.

NKI March 25, 2013 - 3:21 AM

Sherron, perhaps the best thing would be to work on toning and firming the body rather than a specific number. That along with healthy eating habits and physical activity will make a definite difference.

Kris March 25, 2013 - 5:57 PM

Like several other posters above, I’m 5’9″ also. At my smallest of 165, people couldn’t believe that I weighed “that much”, because I looked smaller. So despite the fact that I was a perfectly healthy weight with no medical problems I beat myself up trying to lose even more weight. My doctor at the time continued to tell me that I could stand to lose a little more.
Years later, a different Dr. told me that 165 was perfect for my height and stature. So I think this study will be a relief to people that were like me and only 10-20 pounds over what is considered “ideal”.

Ayanna M. August 8, 2013 - 1:07 PM

I have been saying this for YEARS! Alot of us AA women would look really sickly and malnourished if we followed the BMI that is currently in place. Maybe one day there will be an adjustment; on the flip side, I really hope and Pray that WE as a AA women will exercise regularly, and do our best to be healthy. I was 318 lbs @ 5’5 this past April, and I’m down to 283 and dropping! I refuse to use this as a crutch because I have two daughters, and my 8 yo is gtting “gooey”, so now we walk every evening for at least 15-20 mins. We have to get it together for not only ourselves, but for our children who mimic what they see US do.

AnaAtalaya August 10, 2013 - 11:52 PM

Finally someone is studying what most already have figured out. My god-daughter was sent home from school with a note saying she was overweight. I was appalled. This is a girl with not an ounce of fat on her, by appearance. She has the natural muscle definition of a body builder, it is freaky how cut she looks. I told her mother that she can ignore that foolishness because comparing that muscle-dense child to those boney white children was sure to make her numbers seem as if she was overweight.

Lisa September 10, 2015 - 9:24 AM

And could give the child a complex about her body for no good reason. Seems like another attempt to tell women not to gain muscle.

Anna F. January 14, 2014 - 5:19 PM

I would have to agree with most of the previous posters: these type of studies are needed. I”m 5’9, and when I was at my smallest ~169, I was constantly told I was over weight and needed to shrink. Although everyone told me I looked small at that size (I wore a size 6/8), I developed an eating disorder trying to meet the medical standards. Years of restricting then binging and purging didn’t help. When my mom tried to get me help for my eating disorder, the doctor saw the numbers and my rump and wrote her off (he told her to give me milk after I purged). All this is to say, that although these studies shouldn’t be used as a crutch (I agree with Daphne on this matter), medical science has not been objective, and this has been detrimental for many of AA women. This is a step in the right direction.

Jill April 20, 2014 - 5:05 PM

I’m a caucasian with middle eastern roots. Think Kim Kardashian. And this is the same for me. I’m 5’1″. According to the rules, a healthy BMI for me would be 98 to 132. If I were 98 lbs, I would be dead. The thinnest I have ever been as an adult was 113 size 2 and 125 size 4 is much healthier looking. Honestly, I look good up to 145. I think BMI is made for northern europeans. Blond white people with blue eyes and light bones. The same people in danger of osteoporosis.

RhysKnows July 2, 2014 - 1:06 PM

Ladies seriously? How can an ethnicity differ in bone density, come on now. Black women can be small as hell so this study is false, your size is down to cultural/societal/individual factors not biological/racial or ethnic ones. Black women in Africa have small frames and small waists same as those from South America. Black women who are in Europe tend to be rather slender. I think its another one of those false studies to keep black women in the US thinking they can never be a certain way. That they can only be big.
You can be a smaller waist size. My girlfriend used to be a bit big and she lost weight, now shes at a 23 inch waist which is smaller than most white and Asian girls – most of the women in her family have waistlines like this too. Of course there are larger framed black women but like ALL women there are women of different sizes in each race.
You cant sum up the physical attributes and abilities of an entire ethnicity or race there is too much variance and differences in genetics. Dont buy into these race focused stuides because race doesnt determine this sort of thing. Its easy to see all the statistics and think its intelligent but its easy to make it look like that.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 3, 2014 - 8:39 AM

“How can an ethnicity differ in bone density, come on now. Black women can be small as hell so this study is false, your size is down to cultural/societal/individual factors not biological/racial or ethnic ones.”

And how do cultural factors play a role?

I mean, I’m not saying, at the date in which I’m leaving this comment, that I completely disagree with the study. Actually, I think that they got the effect right, and the cause wrong.

When you’re talking about bone *density* (and not, in fact, waist size), you’re talking about the health of the BONES. Mainstream society is encouraged to diet themselves into oblivion, something that causes its own subset of unhealthy traits – malnutrition, poor skin and hair quality, and YES, poor bone density.

Seeing as how extreme dieting and calorie restriction have never been a part of black culture, and seeing how the titan of all healthy veggies has been a part of black culture for all time – collard greens – it’s easy to see how this could’ve potentially been avoided to the point where our bone density is far healthier than our counterparts. Science sometimes gets the outcome right, but the cause wrong.

No one is saying it’s impossible to BE a smaller waist size. We’re just saying that, when it comes to waist sizes, there’s a range in which a person can fall and still be healthy. Thanks to black cultural staples, that range is wider for black women – instead of it being from 23″ to 30″, it might be from 24″ to 35″.

None of this says that a woman can’t choose to be smaller of her own volition and achieve that goal. It’s strictly about what the range for being out of the risk of poor health is, and for black women, it’s potentially a win.

Lisa September 10, 2015 - 9:13 AM

The study gives me hope because I don’t have to try and go from 175 to 125 in order to be healthier. Can I go for 150 and experience health benefits? Yes. Would I be comfortable staying there? Yes.

Honey May 5, 2016 - 1:16 PM

My frustration is that we don’t have a rubric to follow. Most doctors are annoyed when I ask for a scale to fit my ethnicity, bone structure, muscle definition. Our society would sweep it under a rug and compare us to average white women. I challenge every medical professional to research an accurate BMI chart, specifically for African Americans. We have proven different bone structures, therefore my challenge is researching the scale of goals to obtain a healthy BMI. History tells us, that we as African Americans, were not considered humans, when “the index was devised by Adolphe Quetelet from 1830 to 1850 during which time he developed what he called “social physics”.[3] The modern term “body mass index” (BMI) for the ratio of human body weight to squared height owes its popularity to a paper published in the July 1972 edition of the Journal of Chronic Diseases by Ancel Keys. This found the BMI to be the best proxy for body fat percentage among ratios of human body weight and height.[4][” My African American history, tells me that we weren’t included in medical information at the time. Don’t misunderstand, I can stand to loose weight but not based on a average white woman. We obsess over a standard, that does not EVEN apply to our ethnicity or race. Don’t misunderstand, I can stand to loose weight, but which standards are we following as African Americans?

Christina October 9, 2016 - 12:39 PM

You know back when I used to do races and was averaging running about 100-110 miles a month my weight was just stuck at 180. People said I didn’t look like I weighed that much at all and my resting heart rate was 50-55 bpm. Weight shouldn’t be the only factor in determining if one is obese or healthy.

kim January 27, 2017 - 3:56 AM

IT is unfair for black women to be classed as obese and more so when pregnant where weight gain is a natural process for us in these times. We are being subjected to a general chart that has been prepared by white people for the general weight requirements (BMI)and not being recognised that our whole make up structure is different to that of a white person and this is so to other races. Therefore we are being targeted as being obese because we are being compared to European/white standards. Do ignore this rule and just eat as best and healthy as you can and know that you are different and that they haven’t caught on yet or are disregarding the facts. There should be a BMI for different races as it is clear we are not all the same. More study should be done around this before labelling.

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