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If you are like most American women, you began the New Year with a desire to lose weight. You’re one month into your journey and, you may have uttered “I just can’t find time to work out,” “I hate sweating,” or “I’m having a good hair day, I’ll hit the gym tomorrow.” If your New Year’s resolution to exercise and achieve a healthy weight is already losing steam, know that you are not alone and know it is critical to stay the course—your life depends on it.
February brings together American Heart Month, National Wear Red Day, Black History Month and a focus on what black women can do to live a healthier life. At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (OMH), we have dedicated the past 30 years to improving the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will help eliminate health disparities. One of the biggest public health battles that have emerged since our inception is the obesity epidemic in America. Since 1980, U.S. obesity rates have more than doubled and remain the highest among all high-income countries worldwide. Adult obesity rates are presently at or above 40 percent for blacks in 14 states. And black women fare the worst, leading all adult groups in combined overweight and obesity rates. This makes February 2016 an ideal time to call attention to this stark racial and gender disparity and join together to help combat this deadly disease.
Let’s have a heart-to-heart about obesity.
Unhealthy weight matters! Obesity is a major risk factor for multiple leading causes of death among black women. Among the top 10 killers of black women are heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers, all of which are linked to obesity. Though obesity is now endemic to the U.S., no population has greater prevalence than black women. Current data indicate 82 percent of black women are overweight (25> BMI) or obese (30> BMI), which translates to 4 out of 5, and rates continue to climb. The good news is obesity and its consequential premature death is preventable.
A key driver of the epidemic is living a sedentary lifestyle. Such physical inactivity is highest among black women, and this trend carries over from adolescence. Between genders and across races, black girls likewise report the highest rate of physical inactivity. Accordingly, black women lead prevalence rates in hypertension, diagnosed diabetes, and stroke. Systematic reviews of physical activity intervention research find social support to be the most effective mode of generating an increase. So, grab a girlfriend and make your new 2016 fitness routine a group effort.
Be a resolver, but be resolute.
Estimates show 40-50 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Weight loss is the most common resolution; included lower on the top 10 list is increased physical activity. Unfortunately, goal attainment is dismal by year’s end. Behavior change experts find that few Americans are successful in achieving their resolution. Their research suggests that individuals make a list of resolutions with an accompanying plan of action for the best chance of success and establish a firm personal commitment to not only goal achievement, but lifestyle change.
No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
As you prepare to distribute Valentine's Day gifts this February, place yourself at the top of that recipient list. Grant yourself the gift of life through a healthy lifestyle. As a young black woman consistently juggling more daily tasks than I have time to complete, I plan to incorporate fitness and stress management in my life through a new weekly yoga routine. I encourage you to assess the areas of your life that could benefit from a healthy change and develop a plan of action. This month and every month, take better care of yourself, not only of others; it can save your life. According to inspirational author H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” After all, yesterday’s the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift.
Dana M. Sampson, MS, MBA is a Public Health Analyst in the OMH Division of Policy and Data and the Black/African American health policy lead for OMH. She also serves as an Associate Investigator for CVD prevention intervention at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Ms. Sampson joined OMH from the NIH Office of the Director where she developed national and international community health programs among underserved populations.
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