The Black poet Lucille Clifton’s 1987 poem “Homage to My Hips” begins with the boast, “These hips are big hips.” She establishes big black hips as something a woman would want to have and a man would desire.
Phrases like “big and beautiful,” “big boned,” “fat momma” and “queen sized” are often attributed to African-American women who are overweight. But glorifying big women doesn’t reveal the serious medical problem that lurks beneath – obesity, which contributes to higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.
Four out of five black women are seriously overweight. One out of four middle-aged black women has diabetes. With $174 billion a year spent on diabetes-related illness in America and obesity quickly overtaking smoking as a cause of cancer deaths, it is past time to take obesity among black women seriously, according to the American Heart Association and the National Medical Association, and the National Diabetics Association.
Why are women of color so disproportionately impacted? The main culprits are high fat diets and lack of exercise. While family history does contribute to obesity, this is no excuse for a woman to throw up her hands in frustration and say, “It’s in the genes; there’s nothing I can do about it.” On the contrary, there is much that individuals can do to attain and keep a healthy body weight. African-American women must begin to prioritize their lives and commit to an appropriate exercise program, as well as plan and prepare well-balanced meals.
Despite the hype about dramatic weight loss achieved through crash diets and prescription drugs, the safest and most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to incorporate a basic two-step regimen: eat less, exercise more. It’s an unglamorous and conventional formula, but it works.
Overcoming obesity requires a change of lifestyle – shedding destructive, bad habits and replacing them with new habits of healthy eating and regular exercise. Some women may need counseling, a support group, or behavior therapy. Physicians and nutritionists are an important resource.
The Big and Beautiful myth is a sad excuse for an unhealthy lifestyle. In many cases, it is literally a matter of life and death.
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