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The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that while exercise is a nearly sure way to prevent obesity in white adolescent girls, it does not have the same effect on African American girls.
From the L.A. Times:
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found that among black adolescent girls who moved the most at age 12, obesity at age 14 was nearly as likely as it was for those whose activity rates were far lower.
For white girls, by contrast, regular exercise at 12 appeared a nearly sure way to head off obesity at 14. That finding held, even when the calorie intakes of an African American youngster and her white counterpart were the same.
The article goes on to say that the study falls in line with research that finds black women oxidize fat more slowly in response to exercise, and that their resting metabolic rates are lower than those of white women.
These findings come in the midst of a national effort to fight the obesity epidemic in the United States and many of those efforts focus on black women. Four in five African American women are overweight or obese when measured by the body mass index, or BMI. Even First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has had a strong focus on encouraging black girls to be more active since experts say the run-up in weight may begin in adolescence.
So with this new research should black women and girls just give up? Should we hang up our sneakers and head to the couch? Of course not!
In fact, Linda Bacon, an associate nutritionist with UC Davis who was interviewed for the L.A. Times article, has been very critical of the focus on things like weight, BMI, and percent body fat. She believes that people should be encouraged to exercise and eat right for the sake of good health, not a number on a scale.
The focus on weight can discourage people from being active and eating a healthy diet if they’re not shedding pounds and can lead thin people who eat junk food all the time to think that they’re healthy. Bacon does not believe weight alone determines a person’s level of health.
In the March issue of Glamour magazine she was quoted saying that overweight people can lead long, disease-free lives. “If you eat a good diet and exercise” Bacon told Glamour, “you’re likely to be healthy, no matter what the scale says.”
About a year ago I made the decision to get rid of my scale. I had successfully shed some pounds I wanted to lose but along the way I had become obsessed with my weight, so much so that my sense of self-worth had become too tied to my size. So last summer I trashed my scale and decided to focus on overall fitness.
That’s when I started training for a half-marathon, something I never thought I would do because even though I had always enjoyed things like dance aerobics classes I had always told myself I could never be a runner. But in February of this year I crossed the finish line of the Mercedes Benz Half-Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama donning a Black Girls Run t-shirt and track jacket.
This summer I’m working to improve my strength, while still doing plenty of running, dancing, and cycling to maintain good cardiovascular health.
And the only time you will see me stepping on a scale is at a doctor’s office.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that for some women weight loss is crucial. If you’ve been told by a doctor that you need to shed pounds because your weight is putting you at serious risk for life-threatening diseases, then by all means follow your doctor’s orders, but do so by making lifestyle changes, not with a crash diet. And don’t get discouraged from your efforts to exercise and eat right just because you can’t reach a magic number on a chart or wear a certain size dress or jeans.
So to all women, regardless of race, out there hitting the gym to lift weights, work that elliptical or dance at your favorite aerobics class, keep moving! To all women and girls pounding the pavement training for your first 5K, 10K, or half-marathon, keep running. With each step you are making your body healthier and stronger, even if it’s not getting smaller.