Part 1: What’s Eating African-American Women?

We're swallowing stress with every forkful, choking on worry with every sip.


(First of three parts.)

The stats are embarrassing: African-American women are the most overweight people in the United States. Here are the numbers: 78 percent of us weigh too much, and 51 percent of that group is obese. That means four out of five us are overweight – meaning a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 – and two of those four are obese (BMI of 30 or more).

There’s been some debate about the use of BMI for African Americans, but there’s no disputing the fact the overwhelming majority of black women are freakin’ huge.

No, the answer is not as simple as eating too much and moving too little, so don’t even go there. Yes, we’re eating too much of the wrong stuff, but the real question is, What’s eating African-American women?

font-size: small;”>I know what my problem is, and if you’ve been with me from February 8, you know as well. If not, here’s the short version: childhood sexual abuse, lifelong weight/self-esteem issues, bulimia, anxiety, depression, now on anti-depressants, psychologist, joined a gym, now losing weight, life is good and getting better, etc.

I strongly believe the obesity issue is emotionally based, because being a black woman in America today can be damned hard, and we dare not show any weakness. So we end up swallowing stress with every forkful, choking on worry with every sip. And it’s killing us: The mortality rates for black women are higher than any other racial/ethnic group for nearly every major cause of death including heart disease, lung cancer, breast cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

Folks, it ain’t all because of Haagen-Dazs.

The first stop on my journey for answers was the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who I’d heard lost a great deal of weight in a short period of time, I just didn’t know how much. So we met to chat Saturday night at a Barnes & Noble here in Raleigh. I had a small raspberry smoothie. She had an iced caramel coffee and a thick slice of key-lime cheesecake. Seriously.

Alhaja Affinnih is 36 years old and has lost 150 pounds since October 2008. She weighed 389 pounds when she started, but had no blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes problems. Yet. Her doctor said she was a ticking time bomb, and Alhaja had reason to be gravely concerned: Her mother lost both legs and eventually died of complications due to diabetes. Alhaja’s doctor said, “You don’t want to get to the point where you’re losing weight to save your life.”