Home The Op-Eds I Have Questions: The “Exercise Doesn’t Work For Black Girls” Study

I Have Questions: The “Exercise Doesn’t Work For Black Girls” Study

by Erika Nicole Kendall


Let’s just get into it.

From The LA Times:

The study, which draws from a database of 1,148 adolescents, is the first to explore differences between white and black girls’ physical activity rates and their effect on weight. (Just under half — 538 — identified themselves as African American.) But it falls in line with research that finds black women oxidize fat more slowly in response to exercise, and that their resting metabolic rates are lower than those of white women.

Such racial differences “may predispose black girls to retaining fat accumulated during puberty,” wrote the authors, James White of Cardiff University and Russell Jago of the University of Bristol. “Our results suggest that prompting adolescent girls to be active may be important to preventing obesity but that using different approaches (e.g. emphasizing reductions in energy intake) may be necessary to prevent obesity in black girls.”

The study compared white and black girls’ physical activity and food intake as measured in three-day stretches where they wore a pedometer and kept track of what they ate. They also reported participation in physical activities through the year. Based on activity, each group was divided into upper and lower halves.

By BMI and two other obesity measures (a measure of body fat adopted by the International Obesity Task Force and a gauge of skin-fold thickness), the 12-year-old black girls in the top half of the physical activity continuum were only 15% less likely to be obese by age 14 than ones in the lower half.

For white girls, those in the upper half were 85% less likely to become obese over the next two years than were those in the bottom half. [source]


Although it’s still important to promote physical activity in all young people, according to the researchers that may not be enough to prevent black girls — who have a higher rate of obesity to begin with — from gaining weight.

“I think everyone would agree we need people to be active. It’s not sufficient on its own to prevent weight gain, but it’s really an important part of the equation,” said Alison Field, who studies weight in adolescents and women at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston.

Still, the new findings “would suggest that… what we’ve been recommending may not be the perfect fit for African Americans,” Field, who wasn’t involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

One possibility is that along with other lifestyle changes, black girls need to get a lot more exercise than white girls to start making a difference in their obesity risk, she added.

But it’s unclear why that would be the case, and just how much physical activity they would need.

Field said the results are “sobering” given that black girls typically are less active to begin with and getting teen girls involved and engaged in new types of exercise is particularly challenging.

The findings come from a second analysis of data originally collected by the National Institutes of Health, which followed girls in Cincinnati, Berkeley, California and Rockville, Maryland starting when they were nine or ten years old in 1985.

For the new analysis, James White of Cardiff University and Russell Jago of the University of Bristol, both in the UK, used data on physical activity, eating habits, weight and height from when the girls were 12 and 14 years old.

Physical activity was measured over three days with a device called an accelerometer, which is kept in a pouch above the hip and calculates how much time the wearer spends walking, running or otherwise being active.

At age 14, close to 16 percent of the black girls qualified as obese, compared to just five percent of white girls.

The researchers found the most active white 12-year-olds were 85 percent less likely to be obese at the second reading than the least active. That held up when they took into account girls’ diets and how much time they spent sitting.

But for black girls, there was no clear link between physical activity at age 12 and obesity at 14.

The study, published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, included 1,148 girls, split roughly evenly between black and white adolescents. [source]

From Yo Momma’s House:

DUHHHHH Black girls ain’t supposed to be skinny no way! It’s in our geeeeeeenes to be this plump with this rump! Duhhhhh!

From New York Daily News:

When it comes to curbing obesity, exercise doesn’t have the same effect on African-American girls as white girls, a new study suggests.

According to research published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, black girls are less responsive to the benefits of physical activity.

Researchers studied the exercise levels and caloric intake of a group of 1,148 adolescent girls at age 12. Two years later, lower levels of obesity correlated with higher levels of exercise in white girls. Surprisingly, the same wasn’t true for black girls — those who reported frequent physical activity were just as likely to be obese two years later as ones who rarely exercised.

The study’s authors pointed to earlier research that helps explain why African-American girls might be at a disadvantage in the weight game, such as having lower metabolic rates and lower rates of fat oxidation than their white peers.

Other potential contributing factors are a higher daily caloric intake and more sedentary behaviors, like watching TV, the study says.

The authors note that “promoting activity would have less impact in this high-risk population.”

In other words, obesity campaigns directed at African-American girls should consider focusing less on exercise and more on controlling caloric intake.

“It’s not just physical activity,” Ginny Ehrlich, chief executive of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

“That’s particularly important for African-American girls.”

Ehrlich says she would be hesitant to share the findings with young black women because body image is “already a really sensitive subject.” [source]

The study is located here. Many brilliant minds can read and dissect this study at their own free will.

When I first saw this… I actually had on my new heart rate monitor… which means, I can safely say that my heart rate rose an obscene amount as I read this.

Um, I have questions.

Never mind the fact that self-reporting your caloric intake is notoriously inaccurate… let’s start with some basic things that we know to be true, here at BGG2WL, about… say, fitness. Did we take into account the body fat percentage of all of the girls involved in the study? A muscular body is a body that needs more calories to thrive – remember Michael Phelps 10,000-calorie-a-day-diet? that was partly to fuel his all-day activity, but also to fuel the fully muscular body he has! – and therefore can consume more calories without it resulting in fat gain. I see that the median (the middle number) of the girl’s body fat percentages were listed in the beginning, but not in the end? Was that taken into account?

Pardon me, as I skim the study.

Doesn’t look like it.

Since we’ve talked about the importance of muscle in burning calories, let’s talk about the kinds of activity the girls engaged in – did the activities promote accelerated muscle development? Like, say, strength training or cross fit or an actual sport? Or was it simply running? (Don’t get me wrong – running is extremely beneficial. It just doesn’t promote muscle in the same way we’re shooting for here.)

Were the girls already athletic before? Considering how the Black girls watched, on average, 20 hours more of television than the white girls, can I assume that maybe there’s some activity taking up that time?

Can we also wonder out loud about what commercials might be triggering what kinds of cravings in the girls who watch a ton of TV? I mean, that’s the point of a commercial, right? To make you want what is being advertised? If you’re watching 20 hours more of television than your counterparts… it’s safe to say that you’re being exposed to triggering content on a regular basis. Both groups of girls might be taking in the same amount of calories, but that TV might be affecting whether or not your calories consist of veggies or um… sugary “omg whole grain!!!” cereal.

Actually, let me come back to all of this.

Let’s look at the diet piece of the study:

Daily caloric intake was assessed using a food diary on 3 consecutive days (including 1 day on the weekend and 2 weekdays) concurrent with the recording of physical activity using the accelerometer. Girls were instructed to record all food and drink, the type of meal, and the time of intake. Completed food diaries were reviewed with the girls by certified dieticians, and supplementary information was sought to clarify incomplete responses. Default values from the Nutrition Coordinating Center at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) were used for missing information on food amounts, types, and preparation methods.24 Daily caloric intake was analyzed centrally using a nutrient data system developed by the University of Minnesota.

Did we break down and compare the nutrient break-downs of each girl’s diet? Did we break down the source of each calorie? The quality of each calorie? Does this study believe that 100 calories of twinkie are the same as 100 calories of carrots… or, even, 100 calories of chicken or 100 calories of avocado or 100 calories of chickpeas?

Because, um… they’re not. Two girls, one eating a diet where the majority of her calories come from protein and the other with a diet of predominately carbs, eating the exact same amount of calories with the exact same body fat percentage will develop completely different bodies.

And, since we’re talking about bodies, can we talk about puberty? These are 12 and 14 year old girls. If the girls are, in fact, extremely active…are they delaying puberty?

And since we’re talking about puberty and young girl’s bodies… can we talk about the reality that hormones, used in our food supply to make the mammals we eat/consume in some form grow larger at a faster rate, can have an affect on the people who eat it?* And, sure, you can always buy animal products and byproducts that are hormone-free, but can you afford it? Is it sold in your area? Do you even know that it exists?

This brings me to my final point: was the socio-economic status of each girl taken into consideration? No, and think about this point. If socio-economic status – the education, money, networked resources, free time, and connections that are available to the child in their household – wasn’t accounted for, then all of these issues become a far greater problem. It’s like comparing the children of millionaires to the children of the working poor:

  • If you have enough money to be a stay-at-home parent, your daughters are far more likely to be involved in sports – often muscle building ones, at that – than if not. Not saying that it’s impossible, but the time that two working parents – or even a single working parent… how many of those girls come from single parent households with limited familial support? – have is limited in ways that a stay-at-home parent’s time is not. It’s something to account for.
  • If you have a child in a sport, you likely have enough money to sustain the travel, the health care, the uniforms. You also are far more likely to have the time to cook your family’s meals. The amount of processed food is likely to be limited.
  • If you have a higher socio-economic status, you likely live in a better neighborhood where you trust your neighbors to do things like pick little Keisha up from soccer practice. You also are more likely to have the car necessary to pick little Keisha (and a quarter of her team) up from soccer practice.
  • If you have more money, you likely live in a better neighborhood with better stores, selling products of better quality. Since we’ve already determined that a) quality costs more money and b) money begets better businesses and opportunities altogether, it’s safe to say that if you live in an area with minimal money then you probably don’t have an organic produce market in your corner. It’s presumed that you cannot afford it.
  • If you are educated, you most likely have a white collar job which allows you to sit on the Internet, read awesome blogs (ahem) and learn about how to better feed your children (and yourself.) This is why it has been said over and over, education matters in health. If you’re working a blue collar or any other color collar job that doesn’t allow you to spend time at your desk learning something not related to your job, then its likely that you wouldn’t even know that a protein-heavy diet is more sound. We all know that “twinkies are bad,” but do we ever get sound advice on what’s good? Just vegetables, huh? What if I’ve never had vegetables, don’t know how to cook them, and don’t have the money necessary to explore something new? I’m just sh-t outta luck, huh?

I’m not even going to keep going. Just know that the resources and opportunities that come with education (alumni networks? hello?) and money are a huge deal. This is why education has always been such an important component in success.

I digress.

I’m really struggling with this. I worry about the kinds of conversations this kind of study – and the subsequent reporting that arises from it – creates in our communities. The reality is that this isn’t a “Black problem.” It’s a “lack of education” problem. It’s a “lack of access” problem. It’s a “lack of money” problem. And, unfortunately, it affects the Black community heavier than others. This isn’t a “Black problem.” It has nothing to do with Black women “rejecting” European standards of beauty. It has nothing to do with how Black women are “supposed” to look. It has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that if you aren’t getting quality food, you can’t build a quality body. And, as always, a quality body is a healthy body, regardless of whether that body is a size 4 or a size 14.

Instead of trying to determine whether or not Black bodies are so different – and, by understanding of the societal belief that skinny is better than fat, inferior…destined to be obese even though very few people of either race were obese a few decades ago – why not try to figure out why we keep fueling billions each year into the system that creates garbage food? Why not try to figure out how we can get our government to create incentives to those who invest in putting produce stores in poorer neighborhoods? Why not try to determine the success rate of programs that educate people – regardless of race – on how to use produce to their advantage? Encourage raw foods and varying sources of protein? Those kinds of studies aren’t salacious enough, right? I mean, this study came out six weeks ago and no one was all up in arms and writing long 2,000 word diatribes about successful weight loss, right?

(And, yes, that study is titled “Descriptive Study of Educated African American Women Successful at Weight-Loss Maintenance Through Lifestyle Changes.” Get into alllll of it… and help me figure out whether a) including the term “educated” was necessary and b) if the term educated is often used in the titles of studies that are predominately – or entirely – white.)

I’ve said, for a long time, that trying to make problems that are actually “poor problems” into “Black problems” means that major issues can go overlooked in this country, as a means of saying “let them deal with their problems.” News flash: “Black” is not interchangeable with “poor.” It means that we never have to address the fact that eating healthily is expensive to the poor, who spend upwards of 30% of their income on food, and since the working poor are the most likely to be the ones on food stamps, we might need to consider giving more money to those on food stamps? (Hey, or investing in making produce cheaper…I’ll take either one. If we can do it with corn and wheat? We can do it with broccoli.) If we ignore the fact that education affects socio-economic status and the probability that someone will face these kinds of problems? Then we never have to invest, as a nation, in lifting the socio-economic status of our citizens. If we refute the fact that there is such a thing as “problem foods,” then we never have to address the fact that the very foods we subsidize are the ones causing the problem.

No. Instead, let’s just do what we can to blame the problem on Black bodies – a genetic flaw, even – and then we don’t have to do anything about it. Double down on that by, after finding out that we’re not as bothered by our inability to achieve European standards of beauty, implying that something is wrong with us feeling that way. Hm.


Listen. For a long time, Black women weren’t even considered human enough to be considered in these studies. (That BMI they keep measuring us by… was created before the slaves were freed. I’m just sayin’.) I’m actually glad that we’re being included… but not like this. Not like this, not resulting in these kinds of stories, and not resulting in these kinds of conversations and feelings about ourselves. We’re still learning. We don’t need to learn like this.

*I’m certain that someone will challenge this, but nothing I have ever read tells me that hormones meant to affect one mammal will not affect the mammal that consumes it. Pasteurization of milk, a known contributor, makes a difference in the amount of hormones consumed, but not a 100% difference. I don’t care what studies the Dairy Association funds. I’m not buying it.

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AshleyJ June 7, 2012 - 3:24 PM

okay…so tell us what you really think and how you really feel!!! (lol)

Anways, I completely agree with majority of your points however I don’t think that we should use any of these things as an excuse as to why we (African Americans) can’t become more engaged in a heathier way of life (exercise and dietary habits.)

I feel as though we (as a whole) has become complacent and are more accepting of our unhealthy lifestyles yet we blame others (white people) for our own downfalls.

Something that has always bothered me is that I hear so many of us wear our “struggle” as a badge of honor! I don’t fault those of other races because they value the structured family or because they value higher education.

BlackBerry Molasses June 7, 2012 - 4:06 PM

This study smacks of the early 19th century medical studies that tried to prove biological difference in race and its effect on other measures such as intelligence and suitability to certain types of jobs (manual vs. skilled labor and professions).
The whole thing makes me uncomfortable and I don’t like it. BODIES are different… race nothwithstanding since its a social and not a biological construct. I don’t like this at all, and I don’t like what it implies or how its going to be taken in general society. Not one bit.

Rae June 7, 2012 - 4:14 PM

Wow, let me say that I am more heartbroken than angry. It’s hard enough being a woman dealing with body image and self-perception black or white. However I am an adult and can spot ignorance, sabotage and just plain stupidity a mile away.

My problem is the message that this sends to young black girls aspiring to be healthy. Making them feel defeated before they even begin. Let’s continue to educate ourselves heath wise and any other way, so that we may educate our children. It’s our responsibility to know better so we can do better. This foolishness is just a constant reminder of that.

* bows head in frustration*

Mika June 7, 2012 - 10:12 PM

I saw this study reported and I was so disappointed. I’ve been in a pedometer challenge at work for 2.5 weeks and each week I posted 30 plus miles. I”m finishing up the third week and will probably exceed that. I said all that to say I didn’t really see any real weight loss until now. I swore I was eating less and couldn’t figure out what was going on until I started to keep an honest journal of my eating. My sodium levels were high because I wasn’t really preparing my own food.

So I wonder if these food journals are truly honest. I would think that the scientist would work in a controled environment to ensure that everyone was injesting the same foods at the same times. Self-reporting doesn’t work, especially if there is no penalty involved.

Darrecia June 8, 2012 - 8:55 AM

I agree with you on several points. I remember reading about this study and thinking well what are these black girls eating? Like the saying goes, “abs are made in the kitchen.” I’ve been able to lose and keep several pounds off by eating right and working out. I follow several fitness/food blogs, most of which are written by white 20-somethings. I may not be white, but exercise and eating cleaner worked for me just like it worked for my white counterparts. As for the cost of eating healthier, I couldn’t agree more. Buying healthy for just me is expensive, I couldn’t imagine my grocery bill if I was trying to feed a family!

Kay June 9, 2012 - 1:28 AM

As a black woman who walks 30 miles a week to try to lose weight, I can attest this truth. I was 200 pounds and could still run a mile without stopping. I have never been out of shape, I just gained a bunch of weight because I was eating out everyday. All the walking means nothing usually I cut out the snacks. I reduced my calories to 1800 from like, 2700 and I have lost 15 pounds in two months from doing that.

Lo June 9, 2012 - 5:44 PM

i remember seeing this on CNN with an interview with the Founder of Black Girls Run…an organisation i love dearly…i remember just changing the channel with no intention of listening to what they are saying…

The mathematics behind losing weight and staying healthy are very simple…I dont know why people always want to complicate it or make it political..Calories in..Calories out..irrespective of your racial background.

As an exercise physiologist, am sure there are some good points in this research..its the direction they choose to go with..their delivery or in other words..conclusions out of several they choose to focus on that bothers me…

Pat Rice November 3, 2012 - 9:41 PM

Erica, I have to jump in here and point out something that’s really been troubling me. As a nearly 50 year old woman let me say that when I was young, there were very FEW “fat” girls. And the girls we called fat, well, when I look at old pictures, they weren’t fat at all. At least not by today’s standards. When I get together with my ‘old’ friends and look at pictures, we are always amazed at how skinny we were! Most of our thighs didn’t touch because we were so skinny and active. Let me say this, diet played a huge role cause mama and daddy didn’t buy fast food every weekend, let alone during the week. Heck, that was a treat; you ate what your folks put in front of you….or you didn’t eat. Have women (and men, cause my daddy could cook) stopped cooking for family? The other thing I’ve noticed is the lack of fun activity for kids like roller skating every friday and saturday or bowling, cheerleading, track, dance, ect? These activities were family deals;mama and daddy came to track meets, dropped you off or stayed at the rink (in case boys got stupid) or bowled, shot hoops WITH you. Do parents not participate in activities with their children anymore? We know the real deal and don’t need a study to tell us what’s going on. Whether or not we do something about it is something different. I was 5’6,130lbs until my 42 birthday…I’m trying to get back to 140lbs. Guess what, I’m back on the skates (gym too) and doing things that I find fun. Maybe its time we brought back fun activity for children as something normal and not something to fear. It’s weird when 12 y.o. girls are worried more about their hair than having fun! It’s time for us to give our children ‘FUN’ again, especially our girls. Time to de-emphasize the weave, nail culture and give them back their childhoods! IJS

Kathy December 10, 2012 - 10:46 AM

*this* right here. My mom was tiny (compared to me) growing up. Her wedding gown was a size 7 back in the 60s when there was not as much upsizing. Her childhood was very different from mine, but she was especially much more active than I was. She always thought she was chubby. Go figure. I was a bookworm and a couch potato, and I ate way too much food. No wonder I was a (misses) size 12 by the time I reached middle school.

I can’t really get offended by the results of the study, even though I do not see how it could be true. Even if it’s not true, the fact of the matter is that times have changed. Our children (all of them–black, white, red and purpler) are *generally* not as active and they generally eat more processed foods than my mother and her generation did. Obesity and other health problems are more prevalent in EVERY culture. Also, consider all of the additives and hormones that are found in foods these days. Scary.

Eva July 14, 2013 - 3:26 PM

Pat, I totally agree with you. I’m 53 and I can see the differences and it’s mainly economics. When there need to be cuts in schools, they always cut gym, they also cut things like home economics. So not only do children today don’t move as much as they used to, they also don’t know how to cook and prepare food, heck, they don’t even know what to eat.

Economics plays a huge part. Today both parents work in a lot of families, that means both parents have to commute and commuting means less time to cook and prepare food and having that less time means more eating out.

Also, when my neighborhood became gentrified, the food choices in the supermarket became healthier.

QueenSize November 14, 2012 - 10:05 AM

I’m not the smartest girl on the block, but I know a lie when I see one. Black female bodies are different. that’s the beauty. What they see and won’t admit is more black women are in the gym. What they see and won’t say is more black women are taking steps to improve their health. Our female black dollars are being tracked all over the USA to health food stores, gym memberships, diet programs, and eating green. Stop the madness! So now we are suppose to believe that EXERCISE is no good for black girls. We have been jumping double Dutch since the end of time. Our dances kept us fit. That’s exercise as well as a emotional outlet. So now we should tell the youth “you can exercise all you want, it won’t do you no good.” Does the same thing apply to black vs. white boys? SABATOGE!
Takeout is the devil. It has done havoc on our bodies. Overuse of sugars, salt, non cooking families. You don’t have to spend enormous amounts of money to eat healthier. I’ve watched my mom prepare and feed a family of 5 with less than $15. Now go to McDonald’s and feed a family of 5. My grandmother had a garden where she grew veggies. Organic shit didn’t exist in the 80’s and 90’s. Take out was a event. now it’s the norm. everybody is getting fat. especially white girls. Don’t buy into bullshit.

Annette December 10, 2012 - 2:46 PM

What are they trying to do with this study. Discourage us what is the point? First of all it’s a fact that African, African American’s generally have a higher muscle ratio compared with the caucasian race.

So therefore with a higher muscle content shouldn’t they also be taking measurements. I hope they are not just taking someone’s work for how many calories and what type of calories they are consuming.

I just think guidelines should take into account your muscular build. The fat to muscle ratio it’s not only about weight but health. I know some of the more fit looking people who died of a heart attack. Fitting into these guidelines don’t mean you are health. There has to be different guidelines taking into account overall health and structure.

El December 11, 2012 - 7:54 PM

I’d be very interested to know the socioeconomic class of the white girls in the study. I’m just saying, from my perspective, poor white women tend to be very overweight. If you look at the town I grew up in, the neighborhood I grew up in- almost EVERY woman and even most of the young girls were bigger. And they ate bad food. They ate junk food and processed food and all the other stuff you associate with cheap products. You are so *right* that class certainly factors into health- and too many of these surveys try to throw poor to equal black, and all it entails, and it isn’t fair, it’s misleading and disheartening and does no one any good.

It would be great to see more publicity on healthy lifestyles for people of different races AND different classes, instead of assuming everyone can do exactly as upper middle class mid 30’s white women can do.

Health should not be a luxury.

Pat Rice December 15, 2012 - 8:12 PM

I take these studies with a grain of salt. People who believe this crap are the same ones who call Serena Williams ‘fat’!

Rooo February 2, 2013 - 12:06 AM

“why not try to figure out why we keep fueling billions each year into the system that creates garbage food?”

Big Ag and Big Food Lobbyists.


nadia July 11, 2013 - 2:53 PM

Thank God you mentiones SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS. It is a crime how it is always left out when reporting on stories like this. To me, it is as if they are then just reporting lies… It also made me wonder how when we mention Asian women (who tend to be thin), we are always told that metabolism is all the same… what is the truth then?

Kitty July 14, 2013 - 5:33 PM

Hi, I read this with interest, and I thought since I’m white and from the UK, I’d add my thoughts as my perspective is probably a bit different.

Firstly, I’d just like to say that Cardiff and Bristol are two of our most well-respected universities (I went to Cardiff Uni in fact), with very good medical schools, so I think the methods and results of the study are probably decent, inasmuch as the questions being asked were going to give scientific results rather than sociological ones. I think the problem is that a study like this can’t show a complete social picture.

It occurs to me that here in the UK we have traditionally quite a problem engaging the ‘black community’ (meaningless term I know, there are lots of different nations under that banner, sorry). There have been lots of attempts by the govt to drive black people into policing, the military, teaching, higher education etc etc, with really quite shockingly limited success. I think of all University graduates in the UK, 2% are black males (or thereabouts), it’s something the government and various public institutions really wrangle with. I don’t think studies like this are done here in order to try and define racial differences in the way that you perhaps fear in the USA- we have never had the kind of deeply entrenched racial issues here that you have (of course they exist, but not to the same degree). I think studies like this are done because there is a real question mark about why black communities here still aren’t achieving in the same way as white, asian, or eastern Europeans (which are probably our biggest broad populations), or why they aren’t doing well in certain areas of life in the UK, health being one. There are tons of healthy eating programmes here from birth onwards, but it’s still reported that black people have a higher incidence of diabetes and obesity for instance- is that nature or nurture? It’s a really hard question to engage with, because obviously racial profiling of any kind is very sensitive, and lacking in sensitivity to individuals. And of course, no-one from an official body wants to propagate racism (rightly so).

I wonder if it is a totally inappropriate question to ask though… It is known that if we are looking at broad populations, that white and black populations can be differently prone to certain illnesses/syndromes etc- one example I can think of is keloid scars for instance. Is it wrong to ask if our bodies have some differences in other areas? I think somebody raised above ^ something I’ve heard before, which is that black people reputedly have higher muscle to fat ratio than white people. I have no idea if that’s true, but if it is, it might support some physiological differences, and if there are some, are they not worth knowing about, so that health support can be more accurately provided to different people?

I don’t know what the answers are here. I can certainly see why people might be offended by the nature of the study (I’m also interested that they didn’t include Asian girls). I think making separate general recommendations to different communities in the UK or elsewhere is a dumb thing to do though- The emphasis should be on inclusiveness for ALL, and health for ALL. Medical likelihoods are only part of the picture, and something that should be left to your doctor.

I also think it would be interesting to see a comparable male study, because it may be that this is a cultural women’s issue rather than a racial issue. It could even be that self-reporting diet is affected culturally because pressures around women’s image, achievement and body shape etc may vary between communities) There are so many sensitivities and if’s and but’s around race, it’s difficult to know how to process things like this study, but rigorous questioning of all scientific, statistical and sociological studies is absolutely valid, and it’s what science is based on. Keep breaking down information and discarding falsehoods, and eventually you get to the truth.

Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts, and I hope they add something to the discussion. I hope none of my terminology is offensive to you- it’s ok in the UK, and I don’t know what’s ok in the States. I’m also aware that any of my thoughts are influenced by white privilege to an extent, but hopefully not too much.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 22, 2013 - 8:21 AM

“I’d just like to say that Cardiff and Bristol are two of our most well-respected universities (I went to Cardiff Uni in fact), with very good medical schools, so I think the methods and results of the study are probably decent,”

Kanazawa was from the London School of Economics.

NO ONE gets a pass from having their study scrutinized just because of whatever school they come from, ESPECIALLY when it comes to matters related to race. If you haven’t been specifically taught how to view race and navigate its study, and if you aren’t well-versed in matters related to race, I’m not certain I should trust you to study differences – societal, financial, physiological, whatever – among races. It’s like paying someone else to fix your radiator just because they own a car. You don’t know enough for me to trust you with my car, you know?

Besides, to be quite honest, so many of us are mixes of different races in some way or another, I have to now wonder – was that ever accounted for? Even with the talk of keloiding, I’ve NEVER had that issue. Some things might feel like a “Black” thing but, really, are more of a perception thing, IMO.

“There have been lots of attempts by the govt to drive black people into policing, the military, teaching, higher education etc etc, with really quite shockingly limited success.”

It’s just like ignoring someone for the first 17 years of their lives, then at 18 throwing a bunch of money at them to encourage them to join a certain field of study… most minors have decided what they want to do – or NOT do, as it were – with their lives long before they’ve ever reached the age where reaching out occurs. I can’t speak, with specificity, on what programs you’re referring to, but I know that many programs in the States ignore a person’s formative years, fail miserably, and then people stand around wondering why “those people” can’t be helped. Might that be the case in the UK, as well?

“I don’t think studies like this are done here in order to try and define racial differences in the way that you perhaps fear in the USA- we have never had the kind of deeply entrenched racial issues here that you have (of course they exist, but not to the same degree).”

I’m not entirely certain that I agree with that. Racism doesn’t have to look like “The South Shall Rise Again!!!111ONE” in order for it to be racism. If I asked my readership, I’m sure I’d get a variety of answers; the best of them, restoring my faith in humanity… but the worst of them, quite possibly illuminating behaviors that neither of us expected to see or hear.

“I wonder if it is a totally inappropriate question to ask though… It is known that if we are looking at broad populations, that white and black populations can be differently prone to certain illnesses/syndromes etc- one example I can think of is keloid scars for instance. Is it wrong to ask if our bodies have some differences in other areas?”

Keloiding is different from obesity, in that one obviously has genetic contributors, but the other has countless other contributory factors. I can’t speak to the socioeconomic breakdown of the UK, nor do I think it’s necessary for our convo just yet, but have the Universities studied obesity and how it tracks alongside income? What about cooking knowledge? What about how much processed food families eat, and where they live? Implying that “obesity programs don’t work for Black girls and women,” to me, is a red flag.

“I think somebody raised above ^ something I’ve heard before, which is that black people reputedly have higher muscle to fat ratio than white people. I have no idea if that’s true, but if it is, it might support some physiological differences, and if there are some, are they not worth knowing about, so that health support can be more accurately provided to different people?”

If I recall correctly – I wrote this years ago, and I’m not commenting on the page – this study doesn’t account for body fat percentage. Another flaw. Having additional muscle would affect you positively in the body fat percentage rankings, but negatively on a BMI chart.

Of course any differences are worth knowing about; but this isn’t the study to defend for it. Not only was it flawed – as evidenced by the ease with which you acknowledged an additional contributor that wasn’t even accounted for – but it was poorly crafted. You can’t study obesity and whether or not racial differences contribute to it without accounting for all its variables.

I really appreciate your last paragraph. It helps me understand where you are coming from, and that you’re sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of those around you.

Janna July 15, 2013 - 9:56 AM

You were so spot on in your assessment of that article. It’s way too simplistic to attribute those differences to race, and not consider other factors that affect weight gain/loss. My mind was screaming those points at me as I read the first part of this post lol. And is it not obvious that of course a healthy diet has to be emphasized along with dieting. I can work out every day, but if I’m only making meals on chips, sweets, and other processed foods, I’m not going to achieve much weight loss. It really is a shame that many times these studies want to look at things through a “black vs. white” lens race-wise, and not consider the biggest difference between these races is not the skin color, but issues like socioeconomic status.

PoliSportsGuy September 3, 2013 - 11:13 PM

First and foremost, Erika, I want to commend you on having what I believe to be the number one site on the Interwebz for discussion of black health issues. Other sites cover these topics, but you cover them personally and in earnest. [BTW, I kinda wish your blog was named something else so as to make it more inclusive to the fellas, but you’re doing great].

Thank you for pointing out that this “study” is complete utter BULLSH**. If you don’t control for income and socio-economic factors your study is malarkey. The issue is 100% an issue with food and its relation to socio-economic class. Those at the lower ends of the economic stratum eat more processed foods that spike insulin and wreak havoc on their metabolic systems while those who can afford to eat real, whole foods end up with better health and body outcomes.

It’s as simple as that, yet some IDIOT with a PHD will blithely sign their name to a b.s. study like this one. And some mediot will breathlessly report the results in major new outlets. And the American public will be STUPID enough to not dig deep enough to see through the b.s. In short, thank you for seeing through the b.s.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 4, 2013 - 12:09 AM


cutiepie35 September 5, 2013 - 12:20 PM

I think a lot goes into being overweight and one study will not have the answer. Like genes my husband is skinny but his brother is obese and they have the same parents and were raised the same. Both parents are small however if you look at some of his aunts and uncle some are obese. What gets on my nerves is putting us all together based on race for everything it would make more since to me to look at overweight people compared to thin people in every race

Erika Nicole Kendall September 6, 2013 - 10:29 PM

I don’t think genes contribute anywhere near as much as people generally believe. Honestly, considering everything you’ve shared here – even though you’ve only shared a little – I could think of five other contributory factors that I’d consider LONG before “Well, genes!”

L. December 8, 2013 - 8:46 PM

Preach, Erica! Thank you for breaking down this bullshit study, and poking holes in the specious conclusions the researchers jumped to about black girls. You need to formulate your own study girl. In fact these researchers need to recruit you so next time they take into account all the OBVIOUS variables that they conveniently left out the first time. If they included the food sources of the calories these girls were consuming, it might show that calories from processed foods were more likely to cause obesity. Then the government might have to figure out why these children were eating so much processed food. Then the government might actually have to evaluate the processed food crap they’re subsidizing and why processed food is often the only kind of food available in poor neighborhoods. Then the gov’t might have to address poverty and the numerous food deserts in poor neighborhoods. Heck, they might even have to invest more money into after school activities and community centers for underprivileged children! But no, they’d rather find another way to otherize black women and girls and say its harder for us to control our weight with HEALTHY food and exercise, the same way every other human being controls their weight. Why is it more clear to us then these learned researchers that we have the same human genes that everyone else has, and that other societal variables such as fake “chicken mcnugget” type foods, environment, and money might be causing this problem ? ::EYEROLL::

Patrice December 9, 2013 - 9:41 AM

I agree with most of your points, but I have a different perspective to add that is not usually addressed. I do believe that genes are a factor when it comes to metabolism and ideal weight. I believe that while all people respond well to improving food quality and reducing processed foods, different people do respond differently to different foods. I’m speaking specifically of food sensitivities. The current western food system is designed for people of European descent, and there is evidence to suggest that other races are not as adapted to foods common in the western world, especially dairy and gluten. Even assuming that that theory is bollocks, there is less awareness in the black community and in lower socioeconomic groups that food sensitivity can be a serious issue that contributes to poor health.

I am speaking as an educated person who exercised moderately and ate clean, nutrient dense, unprocessed foods for 2 years while counting calories, with no weight loss and an actual deterioration in health. I still struggled to stay out of the obese category, and suffered from a myriad of seemingly unrelated minor physical complaints (dark under eye circles, acne, extremely sensitive skin, bad BO, thin hair, dry heels, chronic fatigue and brain fog, mood swings, bad PMS, alternating constipation and diarrhea, mysterious abdominal cramps, joint pains, chronic anaemia, high cholesterol at age 26, elevated blood pressure,etc. – you’d be surprised how many symptoms you can dismiss as a part of life if you’d had them long enough). I also see several obese family members with the same issues, and more. Two months after eliminating dairy and gluten, all those symptoms resolved, and suddenly I could eat a lot more food without worrying about weight gain. I effortlessly lost 15 lbs and reached within 5 lbs of my ideal weight while not counting calories and doing only walking and yoga for exercise, and the food cravings and obsessions that tormented me for as long as I could remember are a distant memory, unless I slip up.
Many of my family members have a sensitivity to dairy as well, but it is usually ignored. I did convince one aunt to give up dairy and gluten and in only 2 weeks, lost 20lbs while eating the same portion sizes as usual, reduced her BP, lost her arthritic knee pain and cured her panic attacks.

I realize that this is just anecdotal, but that makes it no less real. I really do think that it is an underdiagnosed problem in general and especially among the black community, and I wonder how many black people walking around with weight and health problems are totally unaware that food allergens could be contributing by causing inflammation, thyroid disorders and deranged metabolisms. I have noticed that educated white persons tend to be more aware of these issues than the average educated black person. I have even heard several doctors report that they were taught that black people can’t have celiac disease. Just another point of view on the complex, multifactorial food and obesity issue.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 9, 2013 - 5:49 PM

“I have noticed that educated white persons tend to be more aware of these issues than the average educated black person.”

What is this supposed to mean? Are you implying something with this?

Patrice December 9, 2013 - 7:07 PM

Not trying to be divisive. Just that in my limited personal experience, when trying to find information or source special food items, the vast majority of people that I come across are white, educated and upperclass. The persons in my social group that I have spoken with about why I avoid certain foods and the effect of food sensitivities invariably seem very surprised that this can be such a far-reaching issue. I’m actually frequently accused of being a hypochondriac or having an eating disorder before I explain, and I think it’s just that it’s just not on most people’s radars. Again I haven’t seen any studies on this, just sharing my limited experience.

Trish December 9, 2013 - 6:45 PM

Say whaaaat? I’m floored by this study. Wow, really? SMH

O.C April 4, 2014 - 8:35 PM

A well designed quantitative study should account for differences in economic status, level of education, even parents’ level of education, and environmental surroundings. Here it seems that race was the fluctuating factor, all things being equal (ceteris paribus). Unfortunately a lot of mainstream and less than critical research ignore the important structural inequities that have a profound effect on the variable being measured. Well… We simply need more black women, black feminists ( that includes men!) to bring it to Everybody’s attention. You have done just that, Erika! Thanks.

L. April 7, 2014 - 7:20 PM

“Does this study believe that believe that 100 calories of twinkie are the same as 100 calories of carrots… or, even, 100 calories of chicken or 100 calories of avocado or 100 calories of chickpeas?” YES! And this is why I love your website! Because we ARE taught to view 100 calories of twinkies and 100 of carrots as exactly the same.

Kae July 15, 2015 - 9:17 AM

Your critique is well founded. The way they frame the conclusion is super limited and not looking at the bigger picture. The original study seemed to have done a better job.

Some of the details that are missing in the follow-up study, like socioeconomic factors, are already described in the original study, so it’s common to leave it out in the follow-up and just refer to the original, as they do: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.82.12.1613
Regarding sociocultural differences in the participants:

“Because of the relationship between socioeconomic background and obesity, and to examine socioeconomic status’ impact, NGHS was designed to include participants from a broad range of backgrounds…”

“The participants were recruited from three different geographical areas to allow for a wide range of socioeconomic back- grounds and to reduce the chance of biased results due to local habits or local ancestry…”

It’s under Materials and Methods: Subjects and Recruitment in the original study.

The original study does a better job of considering the many factors that are shaping the health of the participants:

“Thus the difference in family income and maximum education noted may be relevant to the development of obesity.”

Someone probably should write an editorial and send it to JAMA. These things get published!

Erika Nicole Kendall July 15, 2015 - 9:26 AM

“The participants were recruited from three different geographical areas to allow for a wide range of socioeconomic back- grounds and to reduce the chance of biased results due to local habits or local ancestry…”

The thing about this, however, is that when you’re dealing with blacks in America – or, really, anyone in America, as the recent recession proved – geographical location doesn’t entirely account for socioeconomic position. Blacks often don’t move into areas because that’s “what they could afford,” they will oftentimes move into places where they are less likely to experience racism, discomfort or “microaggressions” for lack of a better phrase due to their race, or so on.

Take this excerpt from a USA Today article, for example:

The average affluent black and Hispanic household — defined in the study as earning more than $75,000 a year — lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average lower-income non-Hispanic white household that makes less than $40,000 a year.

“Separate translates to unequal even for the most successful black and Hispanic minorities,” says sociologist John Logan, director of US2010 Project at Brown University, which studies trends in American society.

“Blacks are segregated and even affluent blacks are pretty segregated,” says Logan, who analyzed 2005-09 data for the nation’s 384 metropolitan areas. “African Americans who really succeeded live in neighborhoods where people around them have not succeeded to the same extent.” [source]

It’s also worth noting that many people who live in “better off” environments aren’t necessarily doing better with regard to finances in vs finances out. Lots of people will spend well above half of their income to live in a “better neighborhood” all because it guarantees a better school system for their children.

Choosing per location might help account for that to some extent, but not enough to remove it from the list of concerns, IMHO.

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