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Losing Fat and Weight continued...

So Zemel's team put 29 obese black women and men on a calorie-restricted weight loss diet. They all decreased how much they ate by 500 calories.

They all lost weight. But those who ate lots of dairy foods lost 24.3 pounds in 24 weeks -- twice as much as those in the low-dairy group. And much more of their weight loss was fat, not muscle.

Zemel says black Americans have even more to gain from low-calorie, high-dairy diets than white Americans.

"African-Americans suffer a disproportionately high prevalence of obesity and overweight," he says. "And African-Americans consume the least calcium and the least dairy in the U.S. So this is the group at the greatest risk with the most to gain from this kind of diet."

Zemel's findings appear in the July issue of Obesity Research.

A Pitch for Exercise

Twenty-five of the 29 obese people in Zemel's diet study were black women. Losing weight is a particularly difficult problem for this population, says Carol Hogue, MD, MPH, director of the Women's and Children's Center at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.

Diet is important, Hogue acknowledges. But exercise is crucial, too. She argues that no discussion of weight loss can ignore the need for more exercise.

"It is very difficult for African-American women to increase their physical activity," Hogue tells WebMD. "It is a lot harder than it seems. They take care of young ones, often take care of old ones, and if they are in the work force they often care for an extended family. Adding one more thing to their life is extremely difficult to do."

Hogue is working on a project to help women increase their daily walking to 10,000 steps per day. That's about five miles of walking per day. That would take too long for most women to do at once. But by making extra walking a part of every activity, the steps add up.

A pedometer can help give you an idea of how many steps a day you take. And it can help motivate you to keep on walking.

"Research shows that that increasing one's level of physical activity really increases health whether it decreases obesity or not," Hogue says. "If a woman reduces caloric intake at the same time, she can lose weight, too."

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