Dare to Ask: Women of all races get bigger
By Phillip Milano
When I was young, I never saw fat white women. Now, everywhere I go, I see
out-of-shape white women. Many of them, especially their legs, are larger than
NFL players. What happened? Is it their diet, or are they just lazy?
Dorothy, black female, Jacksonville
We're lazy, our cities lack green spaces to exercise, we watch too much TV,
corporations push high-fructose corn syrup down our throats, school lunches are
too starchy, it's not even safe for kids to walk to school so they sit on their
butts all the time . . . And big pharma and its expensive drugs for type II
diabetes and cholesterol couldn't be happier.
D.L., female, Los Angeles
I'm not sure that it is limited to white women, but sadly I think it is a
sign of the times. Everything is about convenience and rushing to stay ahead.
S.E., 31, white female, Jacksonville
For years, we've all assumed this affliction was unique to white ladies. Who
doesn't remember where they were and what they were doing when Robert Plant
admitted he lifted directly from Vol. 215, No. 3 of the Journal of the American
Medical Association when he penned the seminal Led Zeppelin lyrics "I don't know
but I been told, a big-legged woman ain't got no soul."
Now comes Beth Carlton Tohill to knock down those hefty pillars.
Tohill, lead epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and an expert
on obesity, stunned us by revealing that women of all colors can be fat.
In fact, "Historically, a higher percentage of non-Hispanic black women have
been obese or overweight, followed by Hispanic women, and then non-Hispanic
whites," she said.
But, the real skinny is that all categories of women are gaining weight,
Tohill notes. For example, a 1988 CDC survey showed that 37 percent of black
women were obese, as were 23 percent of white women. By 2004, those numbers had
bloated to 51 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
"People are more sedentary, they're using TV remote controls, and those
modern conveniences are adding up," Tohill said. "There are also more
inexpensive, high-calorie foods and sugary beverages."
As far as more black women being overweight: in a 2005 study by Yale
University public health professor Tene T. Lewis and colleagues that looked at
obesity in women, researchers commented that "research suggests there is less
stigma associated with being overweight or obese for African-American compared
with white women." They also noted that "compared with white women,
African-American women report less of a 'drive for thinness' and tend to prefer
'curvaceous,' normal weight vs. thin body ideals."
Tohill agreed there's no hard science behind the weight differences, but
"there is a perception that it is more culturally desirable among black women
and men not to be thin . . .
"But, we are all getting used to everyone being larger."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
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