Duke Study: For African American Women, Maintaining Weight Is More Practical Than Losing It

Aug 26, 2013

Actress Gabourey Sidibe has spoken openly about her obesity and how people perceive her because of it.
Credit Greg Hernandez via Creative Commons

New research out of Duke University suggests merely maintaining weight, instead of losing it, is a more practical and successful approach for African American women. Lead author Gary Bennett is associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. He says pre-menopausal black women have the highest rates of obesity in the country. About 80 percent are overweight, which contributes to a disproportionate risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

“Most studies show that we have great difficulty promoting weight loss among black women,” Bennett says. “Some of the reasons might be that as a group, black women have a tolerance of heavier body shapes. There's an acceptance of a range of body shapes. There aren't as many cultural norms that value thinness. There's aren't as many social pressures for a lot of women in this group to lose weight.”

Bennett says after 12 months, the black women in the intervention group had stabilized their weight and continued to maintain it 18 months. The study cited other research showing  overweight and slightly obese African American women face far lower risks for many chronic diseases than do obese women who are white or in another racial group.