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African American Obesity

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Fried chicken, mash potatoes and collard greens mixed with fatback meat was my family’s favorite Sunday meal. Soul food, as it has been called, is valued by many African American families

Given the worldwide obesity epidemic that appears to be affecting most ethnic groups, there is an appreciation that the causes of obesity among African American families and others must lie in the fundamental aspects of the food supply. In my opinion, African Americans in the United Sates are more likely to be obese because there is a large number of low-income families’ and many are uninsured.

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Obesity prevalence in black/African American children and adults of both sexes is high overall and compared with US whites. What we know, and do not know, about how to enhance the effectiveness of obesity prevention and treatment interventions in African Americans is the focus of the 10 articles in this special issue of Obesity Reviews. The evidence base is limited in quantity and quality and insufficient to provide clear guidance

With respect to children, there is relatively consistent, but not definitive support for prioritizing the systematic implementation and evaluation of child-focused interventions in pre-school and school settings and outside of school time. For adults or all ages, developing and refining e-health approaches and faith-based or other culturally and contextually relevant approaches, including translation of the Diabetes Prevention Program intervention to community settings is indicated. Major evidence gaps were identified with respect to interventions with black men and boys, ways to increase participation and retention of black adults in lifestyle behaviour change programmes, and studies of the impact of environmental and policy changes on eating and physical activity in black communities. Bold steps related to research funding priorities, research infrastructure and methodological guidelines are recommended to improve the quantity and quality of research in this domain.

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Although progress has been made to understand the association between physiological and lifestyle behaviors with regard to obesity, ethnic differences in markers of obesity and pathways towards obesity remain somewhat unexplained. However, obesity remains a serious growing concern. This paper highlights ethnic differences in African Americans and Caucasians that may contribute to the higher prevalence of obesity among African Americans (Kuo HK, Yen CJ, 2007). Understanding ethnic differences in metabolic syndrome criteria, functioning of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, variations in glucocorticoid sensitivity and insulin resistance, and physical activity and cardiovascular fitness levels may help to inform practical clinical and public health interventions and reduce obesity disparities. Unfortunately, AAs are less likely to be physically active than CAs, and AA women report less leisure-time activity, fewer hours spent standing and fewer flights of stairs climbed per day than CA women [78]. Resting energy expenditure and resting fat oxidation have also been shown to be depressed with obesity and may be lower in AA than in CA women, which could lead to a greater weight gain among AA than CA

Interestingly, a study conducted by Lee and Arslanian showed significant difference in fat oxidation rates between African and CA girls, but not between African and CA boys in response to the multistage graded treadmill task. Thus AA women may be at highest risk for reasons above and beyond their level of activity (Willig AL, Hunter GR, 2011).

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For the most part, obesity in the African-American community has been a growing concern in recent decades and can be attributed to a multitude of societal elements. Contributing factors include but are not limited to inequities in stable and affordable housing, income and access to quality education. Each one of these factors has the potential to directly or indirectly influence an individual’s chance to live a longer and healthier life

In addition, if one combines those circumstances with disparities in access to affordable and healthy food or safe places to be physically active, the picture of obesity in the African-American community begins to take shape.

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Kuo HK, Yen CJ, Chen JH, Yu YH, Bean JF. Association of cardiorespiratory fitness and levels of C-reactive protein: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2002. International Journal of Cardiology. 2007;

Naidoo T, Konkol K, Biccard B, Dudose K, McKune AJ. Elevated salivary C-reactive protein predicted by low cardio-respiratory fitness and being overweight in African children. Cardiovascular Journal of Africa. 2012;23(9):501–506.

Brown RV, Kral BG, Yanek LR, et al. Ethnic-specific determinants of exercise capacity in a healthy high-risk population. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012;

Willig AL, Hunter GR, Casazza K, Heimburger DC, Beasley TM, Fernandez JR. Body fat and racial genetic admixture are associated with aerobic fitness levels in a multiethnic pediatric population. Obesity. 2011

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