On Blacks and Fat: Dr. Michelle Gourdine

This author says black women can embrace their curves as long as they know their health stats, too.

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

MG: There's this prevailing myth, whether people admit it or not, that African Americans are obese because we like being fat. There have been a number of debates about it, and I don't believe it's true. One study that really upset me was the one that said that black teen girls don't benefit as much from exercise as white teen girls do.

They measured [physical activity] using an accelerometer, which does tend to be relatively objective, but they only made measurements over three days, and they based the largest part of the comparison between the physical activity of black girls and white girls on their self-report, which is open for interpretation.

Then, there was no accounting for the quality of diet that each of these girls ate during the period during which they were being monitored, and as I just stated, diet has a lot to do with weight gain. In fact, there have been studies that have shown that 75 percent of weight gain or loss is dependent on our diet.

Finally, when the study authors said black girls don't benefit as much from exercise, there was a very narrow definition of "benefit." We don't only benefit from exercise with weight loss. We also benefit by obtaining better control of our blood pressure, our blood sugar and our cholesterol, all of which, if they're not under control, set us up for serious disease. And there are also mental-health benefits related to exercise.

So my concern was that that study and the way it was interpreted in the media might discourage some young ladies who are very diligent about taking care of themselves from undertaking physical activity. And that would be a huge, huge mistake.

TR: If you could make just one suggestion for people to implement in their daily lives with respect to weight and health, what would it be?

MG: This one is really important to me. African-American women in general have a very accepting attitude about each other, and it's not dependent on size. In other words, we know we can be beautiful and we can be confident at any weight. But part of that self-acceptance and self-love means paying attention to your physical health.

There's a big difference between simply being curvy and being unhealthy. So the one suggestion I would make would be that, in addition to paying attention to the number on the scale, you pay attention to other numbers as well.

Just like you know your phone number and your Social Security number, you need to know your cholesterol, your blood sugar and your blood pressure and the size of your waist. These numbers, if they're off-kilter, are like a dashboard. They indicate that your arteries are clogging up, that you're not processing insulin properly, and that can mean you're teetering on the verge of diabetes, heart attack and stroke. So know your numbers so you can maintain a healthy weight and live a healthy life.