On Blacks and Fat: Danielle Moodie-Mills

This environmental advocate says we should think of the outdoors as a free health club.

Danielle Moodie-Mills

Obesity is more common in African Americans than in other ethnic groups. But when it comes to black people and weight, that's where the agreement seems to end. Is food the culprit? Is exercise the solution? Is there even a real problem to begin with, or should we be focusing on health -- or even self-acceptance -- rather than the number on the scale?

Against the backdrop of the first lady's mission to slim down the nation's kids, black celebs getting endorsements after shedding inches and a booming weight-loss industry, The Root will publish a series of interviews with medical professionals, activists and fitness enthusiasts that reveal the complexity of this issue and the range of approaches to it.

For the fifth in the series, The Root talked to Danielle Moodie-Mills, the National Wildlife Federation's senior manager of environmental-education campaigns, who recently wrote an essay for this site on connecting children to nature for the benefit of their health and well-being. She says the epidemic behind the obesity crisis is that people simply aren't taking their kids outside anymore.

Read the rest of the interviews in the series here, and check out the rest of The Root's obesity coverage here.

The Root: According to the latest statistics, African Americans are 1.5 times as likely to be obese as whites. What's going on, from your perspective, with black people, obesity and overall health?

Danielle Moodie-Mills: About 80 percent of our population lives in urban areas right now, and that's probably increasing. And we know generally that in urban areas, a lot of things happen that may preclude people from going outside. There may not be a park near their house or a natural green space, for example.

There is a recent study that came out that says that school is cutting recess across the board. With the advent of the No Child Left Behind policy in 2001 and the subsequent amendments to that, we got into the mentality of teaching to the test, and saying teachers needed more time to do that. Where is that time going to come from? It's going to come from P.E. and recess.

Unfortunately, the lower-performing schools that are being targeted by these cuts are also high-racial-minority schools. So those students are the ones [who are] less likely to get outside and get exercise. That to me sounds like prison, and that's what we're asking 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds to do. Don't we believe the outdoors is for everyone?

TR: When it comes to African Americans and obesity, what is the biggest myth or misunderstanding?

And then there are all of these stereotypes that we put on people who are overweight, especially African Americans who are overweight. It's like, "Oh, I'm big and beautiful and sexy," when you're talking about adults, and when you're talking about kids, it's, "Oh, they're just big-boned." I've heard that, I read that. And, it's like, did they seriously just put that in print? Because it just feeds into an unhealthy stereotype -- a stereotype, frankly, that's killing us as a community.