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When Body Size Does Affect Health continued...

In her work with black families, Davis finds that when she talks about obesity, nobody listens. But when she talks about health, people not only listen -- they change their behavior.

Davis and colleagues interviewed obese children and their parents -- mostly mothers, nearly all of whom turned out to be obese. They asked the children, and then the parents, about their experiences and about how they saw things.

"When we began to share with parents the fact that their children were being teased about being obese, the parents made excuses," Davis says. "They said things like, 'It's in the genes,' and so on. They didn't seem to be concerned. But we noticed a big change in mood when talked about the health aspects of their children's body size. With no further provocation from us, the parents began to form groups to get together and exercise, and make healthier meals."

The lesson, Davidson says, is that health care providers have to sing a different tune.

"We know we are missing something. What is it?" she asks. "What I see clinically is people saying, 'What you are talking about doesn't apply to us.' But just because we can't get past the fact I am labeling you with a term you feel doesn't fit you doesn't mean we don't have a health problem here."

Like Davis, Davidson finds the discussion about obesity has to focus on health, not weight itself.

"If you went to a doctor and he said, 'Your nose is a mess, I'm sending you to surgery,' would you do anything about that? No," she says. "But if the doctor said, 'You can't breathe right, we need to straighten your nose out. It will change your appearance, but you will sleep better, and have fewer health problems,' you'd be much more likely to listen."

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