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Part 3: What's Eating African-American Women?

Illustration for article titled Part 3: Whats Eating African-American Women?

(Last of three parts.)

The children of Generation X are being called “Generation Triple XL,” as in an XXXL shirt size.


Where to place the blame? Some say it’s all the hormones, chemicals and additives in our food, from baby formula to Thanksgiving turkeys. Others, all the high-fructose corn syrup in the American diet. Then there’s all the fat-saturated, salt-covered, sugar-filled junk foods marketed squarely at our kids – some of it so chemically adulterated it’s a wonder they can legally be called food.

Whatever the cause, the solution lies somewhere with the parents.

The entire country is foundering under the weight of a national obesity crisis, but African-American and Hispanic kids are far more likely to be overweight than any other ethnic group. The reason begins at home: A child with two obese parents has an 80 percent risk of becoming overweight, a child with only one obese parent has a 40 percent risk, and a child with normal-weight parents has a 7 percent risk of becoming overweight. Now this is where it gets interesting: Twins who were adopted by different families were found to be more similar in weight to the biological parents than to their adoptive parents. Why? Prenatal factors such as maternal obesity, excess pregnancy weight gain, and diabetes.


Money has a role, as well. Still, the American Public Health Association found that while a lower level of parental income and education increases the risk of being overweight among white children, higher socioeconomic status does not necessarily protect from overweight and obesity among African-American and Hispanic children.

All of these stats can be a bit depressing, so instead of talking about how bad things are, I’d rather focus on what we all can do to turn things around for our children – especially if you’re an overweight parent.

In the first part of this series, you met Alhaja Affinnih, who’s lost 150 pounds since October 2008, when she weighed 389 pounds. Our chat revealed we have a great deal in common, including the fear that our children would end up obese. We’ve both been overweight most of our lives, were heavy while pregnant and struggled with weight for years after. Alhaja comes from a family large in size, especially on her Nigerian father’s side. That’s where we’re different.

It is not in my genetic makeup to be the size I am. Both my parents were fit, as were my brother and sister. I was a skinny little thing until I was 9 or 10, when my life kinda went sideways, which you already know if you’ve been with me from the start.


All that to say this: Alhaja and I took different paths to the same place, and we’re both determined to ensure our children stay healthy – especially our daughters. Hers is active in basketball year-round. Mine has been enrolled in a competitive cheerleading gym the past eight years. We keep them active to prevent the excess fat cells that, thanks to us, they were born with are never filled.

It is wonderful the First Lady has taken on childhood obesity as her cause célèbre, and I hope school lunch menus change and recess and gym classes return. But Michelle Obama can’t reach into our shopping carts and replace Hostess cupcakes with granola bars, even though the cupcakes cost much less.


So what to do? Eleanor Hinton Hoytt of the Black Women’s Health Imperative suggests black women need to come together more as friends and supporters so we can work through our issues as one. “When we recognize we’ve lost control, and we lose our man, when our children are ashamed of us, we become socially isolated and internalize oppression.”

Toward that end, let me share some ideas on what worked to prevent my two children from a lifetime of weight problems. Maybe these tips can help you or someone you care about.


1. Get them involved in a sports program outside of school. Karate is good for self-discipline and learning how to respect others. Some church-based programs are free, if cost is a concern. Whatever the cost, consider what you spend an investment in your child’s future.

2. Pack their lunches – and let me be the first to declare what a pain in the a** this can become if you don’t plan at least a week ahead. Both my son and daughter started getting chubby in elementary school, so I stopped paying for school lunches and started packing – sandwiches, Lean Pockets, fruit cups, veggies and dip, lowfat and nonfat treats, and sugar-free juices or bottles of flavored water bought in bulk from Sam’s Club. Every day, every year through graduation. Their meals were much healthier and satisfying than anything the school served.


3. Exercise as a family. For awhile there, we were all enrolled in karate. Go skating, bike riding, or best of all, walking. It’s a great time to bond as well.

If any of you have tips to share, please include them in your comments.

Also, look for the “Less Leslie” page on Facebook THIS FRIDAY. At least, it’s my goal to have it up and running by then (says the Queen of Procrastination). That way, we’ll all have a place to share stories, advice and action plans to combat all these unfortunate statistics that are eating away at African-American women.


Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.

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