Body style preference of African American females impacting their health

The preference of some African American women toward a larger, curvier body type may be a significant barrier to maintaining healthy weight, a key factor in helping prevent chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a new research study has found.

The research indicates that measures of what medical standards consider as normal, overweight and obese may not be as relevant to some African American women’s interpretations of their size classifications, meaning that a "one size fits all" approach to weight loss may not work for this group.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was led by Heather Kitzman-Ulrich, PhD, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Community Health at UNT Health Science Center.

Jennifer Cole (MPH ’14)

In part, it conducted six focus groups to explore the influence that body image and appearance have on these women’s motivations to lose weight.  Key findings showed a disconnect between body size and health status, suggesting that body mass index (BMI) standards may not be relevant to African American women.

UNTHSC School of Public Health graduate student Jennifer Cole (MPH ’14, Behavioral and Community Health), one of the researchers, recently shared a first look at the study’s findings in a presentation to the Texas Public Health Association’s 2014 Annual Education Conference, winning one of two first place awards for Outstanding Research Paper Presentation.

In her discussion, Cole highlighted the cultural and social norms regarding weight, health and body image among African American women and explained how the research data was used to develop the Better Me Within program, a faith-based weight loss intervention for women in South Dallas. 

She noted that more research is needed among this population and that programs should consider linking weight to chronic health conditions as a motivational factor, while retaining cultural body satisfaction.

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