Sunday, July 03, 2005

Some Like It Hot

Last weekend, I attended the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and signed books at the authors pavilion. Thanks to continuously inclement weather, the temperature was more "tame" than I had expected, and I was grateful. The local papers and television stations estimated that 250,000 people, mainly African Americans, attended the festival. While observing these prosperous and joyful Americans, it occurred to me that what we need is a movement not unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Without wanting to start a controversy-and praying that I don't- I submit that we need a nation-wide health campaign to warn African Americans of the relationships between diet and weight, and strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease. As one whose work has for years involved the study of the epidemiology of morbidity and mortality, I have to say that I am alarmed about our health prospects.
What does this have to do with the festival? That is where I saw thousands of African Americans strolling leisurely along the streets, most I would suggest below the age of forty-five, and nearly three-quarters of them candidates for the ailments listed above. I love cornbread and barbecued spareribs as well as the next person, but knowing my mother's family history, I ration myself, and if I gain five pounds, I get rid of it. So let us do what we can to guide young black Americans toward the path of good health. We are not the only ones who need this change-America needs it, but we are the ones about whom I am concerned.

Let me know your reaction. Is there anything you and I can do?


At 1:45 AM, Blogger Andie said...

Am in total agreement with you and a good start is with our children. Having a young daughter who is beginning to "enjoy" food and my goal is to continue to teach her to eat healthy and to take her out for regular physical activity. Children today do not play outside as much, TV, video games, computers are the norm for their entertainment and thus creating a very inactive lifestyle. It truly saddens me when I see a 11 or 12 year old already weighing 150 plus pounds and the parents are doing nothing to change their eating habits or activity level, thus not encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger mochasistah said...

I definitely agree. As a "big gurl" who recently lost over 20 pounds by changing her "bad food" diet I agree with you. During the school year I teach poetry in teh schools and I see more youth who are over weight. I see kids who don't eat breakfast, or they eat bags of chips and pop for it. I know a lot of people I saw at this year's Taste of Chicago whoofing down lots of fatting foods. The way I have been approaching my eating is to eat with moderation in mind. And working out every week. I have a client right now over 180 pounds and she's only 15! I know a movement among our people must be started so we can reduce the amount of folks dying from diabetes and other unhealthy lifestyles. I hope we take it seriously so we can extend the race.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Donna Hill said...


Since I was there with you, I must say that your comments though on point were entirely too diplomatic. Not only were the women obese, they were sloppy obese. The old adage "if you have it flaunt it" was in full effect. It was not a pretty sight but an eyesore. There are plenty of very attractive styles for heavy women. If you are a size 20 plus, what in heavens name makes you think you should spray paint on a size 10??? I don't understand it.And what is worse, these are young women, not your grandmothers. Young girls with rolls and bulges everywhere. You're right it's not healthy. And if they continue on that track it will only get worse. And their idea of sexy is to show as much cleavage and ass as possible. Spandex should be banned!!!!!!!!!

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Monica said...

I'm wrestling with weight now and have all my life.

It's been in the news that weight loss in adults (if you're not obese or have chronic illnesses) actually increases mortality. The up and down yoyoing is worse for a middle-aged body than a few pounds over the accepted norm.

But with diabetes and hypertension, (as I have, and both parents) miantaining a reasonable weight is important for health. And addressing the issue of overweight and obese children is critical.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger dorrie said...

GURL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope my fam doesn't see this but OH WELL. I have a relative who is not really that big. She might be a size 18 or 20. But she wears belly shirts, mid-driffs and booty shorts and she is 42 and was at the Essence fest this weekend with her sorors. I bet you saw HER!!!! But you are right. I am five foot 2 and struggle to stay in the 155-165 ranges and would like to get down more but it is such a struggle. With me its not what I eat as much as a very sluggish metabolism and so-so health insurance with doctors who feel like if my blood pressure is fine and no other ailments like thyroid or diabetes they aren't going to invest any time in me so I just exercise almost every day and try my best to stay fit! Back to my fam, she is one of those people that if she dressed more appropriately people wouldn't call her sloppy fat, they would just think she was a bit big in the stomach area...but you should see the stuff she wears at her age she trys to dress like she is 15!

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Gwynne Forster said...

Donna and Dorrie,

I tried to avoid taking the sistahs down, but you both have nailed it right on the head. What a pity it is!!! Gwynne

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Danyel said...

wow. I'm sorry to hear about it. we do need to be wiser about our choices. thanks for the post, though. how was everything else?

At 7:05 AM, Blogger Sylvia Hubbard said...

I agree with Andie. We need to start at our children when it concerns with our health. It is ashame when we have to force our children to go out and play, or choose to eat wisely when we are not around.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Karen Scott said...

Fast food is evil. Lobby McD's and BK to decrease the amount of saturated fat they currently have in their burgers, fries etc.... OK maybe too big a job, but can they at least use Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

I read somewhere that America has the most obese people in the world, regardless of colour, is that true?

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Christine Townsend said...

I thought the following article from the Memphis Commercial Appeal presented an interesting perspective on the topic. Read below:

Hair Styles Linked to Obesity in Black Women.

Lets 'Do' it Right: Exercise.
Wendi Thomas

More than 60 percent of black women are overweight. And I'd bet that many of these women have nicely styled hair. How are the two related? Many of us are overweight because we don't exercise. And I maintain many of us don't exercise because we don't want to sweat out our hair. For those unfamiliar with black hair, here's a primer. Many black women have their hair chemically treated to make it straighter. As the hair grows, the process - called relaxing - must be repeated on the kinkier roots.

Water, humidity and sweat are the enemy of relaxed hair. I know. Many of my sporadic attempts to exercise have been foiled by my hair. I've done TaeBo under a swirling ceiling fan. I've ridden a stationary bike under an air-conditioning vent with a fan aimed at my head. I'll do almost anything to avoid sweating hard enough to mess up my 'do.'

Of course, other factors contribute to obesity, such as poor diet. But for women, and black women in particular, hair is a factor. "When the one thing you have going for you is your hair, you don't want that messed up," says Brenda Speight, community nutritionist for the health department. Speight remembers how as a child, she'd get her hair pressed on Saturdays, to ready it for church Sunday. When her hair was done, so was playtime. Her mother wouldn't let her start sweating and messing up that hair. For many women, Speight says, getting their hair done is about more than looking good. That trip to the beauty shop "may be the only time that week that the black woman is cared for, instead of doing the caring," Speight says.

The link between hair and black women's health hasn't escaped the attention of the medical community. With obesity comes a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer. While researching black women's health issues, Harvard professor Rima Rudd learned of the hair/health link at a community meeting, and from a man. "He said, 'You're not going to get anywhere talking about physical exercise in the black community unless you talk about hair.'" Interviews with Boston-area women confirmed the man's theory.

The research continued, at first with the support of the National Institutes of Health. But the NIH eventually withdrew financial support "because they said there was no scientific link between physical activity and hair," she said. Undeterred, Rudd and others spent $6,000 of their money to publish the pamphlet, Hair Care Tips for Sisters on the Move. That was five years ago. In the last few months, Rudd gave the pamphlet to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to republish. To see the brochure, go to But do more than read. Move until you sweat. Even if it costs you your 'do.'

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Marcus Harris said...

Your concerns are definitely valid, Gwynne, and I also feel that with the recent passing of Luther Vandross, we have the opportune time (once again) to bring such issues as diabetes, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity back to the forefront of our community's collective consciousness. One of my personal mottoes is "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and there's no time like the present to deal with problems that will only be exacerbated in the future if we don't act on them now.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Gwynne Forster said...

You are so right, Marcus (A nice, strong name). And because this is a national problem that happens to rest most heavily on us, getting rid of it will be that much more difficult. When I see young women struggling to walk, not because of physical injury, but because of the effect of eating habits on their health and girth, it makes me sad. Gwynne

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Dee Savoy said...

Sorry to come to the topic so late, Gwynne, but I agree wit you wholeheartedly. Speaking as someone who has gone from a size one to a size where one is just one of the numbers I know it is hard to keep your weight where you want it. Sitting in a chair all day writing doesn't help either. However, I'm a firm believer in trying to get some exercise and good food into the body. If that's not working for you, please just cover it up. There is nothing less attractive than a too big body in too tight clothes. Or flabby flesh hanging out everywhere. This is not simply a black phenomenon, so I don't feel anyone who has made comments like this is calling the sistahs out. It's just a fact of life.

That being said, I also wonder why folks are not so hard on the men who look like two tons of non-fun? I think we should be harder on them than we are on women. First, they don't even have the excuse of bearing children (which will put a few pounds on you if you let it). These same hefty guys will turn around and complain their woman is too fat. I say learn to control your own weight before you start picking on mine.

I agree, you have to start with the kids. I had a girl in my kindergarte class last year who weighed almost as much as I did. Now that's tooooo much.

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