(The Root) — 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 10th in the series, we spoke to Dr. Ian K. Smith, author of The Fat Smash Diet, Extreme Fat Smash Diet, The 4 Day Diet and Happy: Simple Steps for Getting the Life You Want. He is a medical contributor on The Rachael Ray Show and host of the nationally syndicated radio show HealthWatch on American Urban Radio Networks. He was also the medical and diet expert for six seasons on VH1’s highly rated Celebrity Fit Club. In addition, he is the creator and founder of two far-reaching national health initiatives — the 50 Million Pound Challenge and the Makeover Mile — and was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
As African Americans, Smith says, “We have to separate aesthetic beauty versus medical fitness.” He told us about why he believes the Steve Harveys and Tom Joyners of the world have a role in spreading this message and why, even though he is a self-proclaimed “diet guy,” physical activity is his most important prescription for health.
The Root: According to the latest statistics, African Americans are 1.5 times as likely as whites to be obese. What’s going on, from your perspective, with black people, obesity and overall health?
Ian K. Smith: There are a lot of cultural entrenchments that keep us on the wrong side of the scale. African Americans, for generations, have eaten a certain way that, while satisfying one’s appetite and one’s sense of taste, has had deleterious effects on us from a physical standpoint. We didn’t think about this 80, 90 and 100 years ago — it was just the way we ate. The way in which we eat has had this long-lasting impact on us, and it’s been a very difficult habit to break. Dietary habits are some of the most notorious habits to try to break.
The other part of it is that it requires either education or the belief that you can connect the dots between eating poorly and one’s health. I think we’ve lagged behind the curve in the African-American community in making that connection. I think we’re starting to do that now as we see the skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes and heart disease. But what we’re seeing now is a manifestation of years of dietary neglect and years of lack of knowledge as to the fact that eating poorly will have negative effects on us.