NOT TO SOUND AN ALARM OR ANYTHING BUT BLACK AMERICA IS IN CRISIS.
You haven’t heard? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 percent of black men and 80 percent of black women are either overweight or obese. Nearly 26 percent of our children between the ages of 6 and 17 are obese. Obesity isn’t the sole cause for concern, as we are developing heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol at rates far exceeding our nonblack counterparts.
If you pay close enough attention, the implication is that it’s our fault that we’re fat. Documentaries like Soul Food Junkies lay blame at the feet of the rich dishes we’ve eaten since we came to America. And studies like one conducted by researchers at Cardiff University and University of Bristol—which aimed to determine why exercise seemed to fail at helping young black girls lose weight—declared that, genetically, we process fat inefficiently, implying that our bodies prefer to be fat.
It’s the old-fashioned pathology that dysfunction is inherently rooted in black culture; our music, our hair, our food, and our bodies are all flawed and need to be fixed. But after years of writing about nutrition, one thing has become clear: This weight thing is not the racial battle we’ve been led to believe it is.
The first indicators of an American weight problem were uncovered circa 1994, when scientist Katherine Flegal realized that 20 million people had become overweight over the course of approximately a decade. Numbers that had long been stagnant were increasing quickly enough to cause concern. In the 1960s, the average 20- to 29-year-old woman weighed 129 pounds. In 2000, the latest year for which comparative data is available, she weighed 157. What happened over the course of 40 years to cause such a change in the trajectory of America’s weight?