With the highest obesity rate in the country, heart disease and illnesses affiliated with the pulmonary system are inevitable and prevalent in the African American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of adults are obese (33.8 percent), and blacks have an obesity rate of 44.1 percent, the highest compared to any other ethnic group.
The same report reflects non-Hispanic black girls are significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls. Roquell E. Wyche, MD, chairman of the Advocacy Committee of the Association of Black Cardiologists and a cardiologist at the Washington Hospital Center in D.C., says there has recently been a generational shift in obesity rates, in which numbers of young adults are becoming obese at younger ages.
“Obesity rates have doubled among adults and tripled among children in the U.S. over the past 20 years,” Wyche comments, “Because African Americans are getting heavier in their lives and carrying the extra weight for longer periods of time, the risk of chronic diseases is significantly increased and life expectancy is projected to be significantly worse. This is the first time our youth may not outlive our generation because of obesity and diabetes.”
Initiatives such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign support the fight against childhood obesity and work to educate and promote healthy living to youth and adults. In a society and culture where big hips and thighs are celebrated, Wyche says African Americans possess different cultural views on what is considered a “healthy weight.” She adds obesity is calculated by a ratio of the weight to the height, which is the body mass index (BMI), and a BMI of more than 25 in adults is classified as overweight and over 30 is obese. Therefore, the higher the BMI, the more you are at risk of conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, which can cause strokes.
Although age and family history are factors one can’t control, Wyche says blood pressure (which includes reducing your sodium intake to 500 mg a day), cholesterol level, diabetes, tobacco use, excess stress, sedentary lifestyle and obesity are risk factors a person can control to decrease his or her chances of heart disease.
“Within the African American community, we need to readjust our healthy weight ideals, with a concerted focus on a healthy diet and regular exercise,” Wyche says. “Heart disease can be completely avoided by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is particularly important for the African American community, in which heart disease is the number one cause of death, surpassing all other causes combined.”