Food Choice and Obesity - What African Americans Need To Know

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The facts are the facts. Just like a majority of Americans, African-Americans are becoming more and more overweight and obese than ever before. Like a majority of Americans, African-Americans are also suffering from the consequences of overweight and obesity such as heart attacks, strokes, and type 2 diabetes at an earlier age. The fact that increases in overweight and obesity cuts across all ages, racial and ethnic groups, and both genders indicates that this health care problem is a national priority. What is even more amazing about the current health trends is that not only are too many African-Americans losing their lives due to overweight and obesity but also too many African-Americans are not making the connection between food choice, obesity and chronic disease.

As a Medical Anthropologist, I was trained to view health, illness and disease from a comprehensive, holistic perspective. That is, I investigate as many of the biological, psychological, sociological and cultural factors which may interact and influence a population's or individual's health status. This approach and model is referred to as the "biopsychosociocultural" model or BPSC model. It allows for anyone who uses this model to view health, illness and disease in a broader context while also recognizing the interrelationship that each of these factors play in their health status. I have used this model to investigate other major chronic diseases such as hypertension, cancer, infant mortality, and diabetes.

I think that one of the most effective strategies in solving this overweight and obesity epidemic in the African-American community is for us to begin to understand not only how the community perceives (values, beliefs, and attitudes) overweight and obesity but also how to develop interventions from the community's "cultural" base of orientation (perspective) to the issues of food choice, overweight, obesity, health, and fitness. By investigating these two key issues (community's perception and community's input for intervention), it will allow us to better inform and to show to the African-American community the direct connection between food choice and obesity.

Through my research of published medical and public health journal articles over the past 25 years as well as my own diabetes research study at a major university outpatient clinic, I came to the conclusion that a "cultural-designed" and "culturally-based" health, diet and fitness program can be very successful in the African-American community. Although there have been documented federal, state and local public health programs that have been successful in implementing culturally-designed and cultural-based programs for African-Americans, there have not been any major successful individual culturally-designed and culturally-based health, diet and fitness program for the individual African-American.

My strategy for reaching and connecting with the individual African American who wants to make healthier choices in their lifestyle has been to develop a diet and fitness program that focuses upon four major components: body image, food selection, food preparation and exercise/physical fitness. By focusing upon these four major components, participants will be able to evaluate their own particular preferences about their bodies, the foods that they consume and how they prepare it as well as any preferences for certain exercises/physical fitness activities. With a better understanding of their own preferences, a long-term plan of health and fitness can be incorporated into their lifestyle while also being based or framed within their own culture. This allows for a better buy-in and comfort zone for the individual African-American because it is something that he/she is familiar with. This is what the New Black Cultural Diet® website (www.newblackculturaldiet.com) and my new book - Food Choice and Obesity in Black America: Creating a New Cultural Diet (2006) - are all about!

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