Who's Obese? Patients, Doctors Differ
Obesity Health Warnings Ignore Racial, Cultural Diversity
WebMD News Archive
Blacks, Whites See Size Differently continued...
University of Cincinnati pediatrician Frank Biro, MD, associate director of
adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, has studied how
different cultures see body size differently.
"You see in the scientific literature that African-American women are
comfortable with a thicker body shape," Biro says. "That is the
specific word they use -- thick. And it's a very good word. If you think about
thin, someone could be thicker."
Where races differ less is in relating obesity to health. For both blacks
and whites, the message isn't clear.
"When it comes to health, many African-Americans do not associate being
overweight or obese with larger body size," Davidson says. "Even with
white women, it was minimized. Some did not believe it. It is concerning that
is so common, because health care providers only use the terms 'BMI,'
'overweight,' and 'obesity' to talk about body size."
When Body Size Does Affect Health
Feeling good about not being pencil-thin is a good thing. It shows that a
person has good self-esteem. But there's a point at which being too thick or
too thin just isn't healthy. And these days, being too thick is much more
Regardless of how we see ourselves, there's a point at which our body mass
makes us ill. Obesity is directly related to problems that include -- but
aren't limited to -- diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and some cancers.
"Being comfortable with your body, that is good for self-esteem,"
Biro says. "But suppose your body mass puts you in the category of being
very obese. That is not a good thing. At very high body mass, you increase the
risks to your health. So being more comfortable with a moderately overweight
body size is probably good. But being comfortable with an obese body size is
not a good thing for you, because you put yourself at much greater risk of
adverse health outcomes."
Unfortunately, Davidson found, people aren't connecting what doctors call
obesity with too-big body size.
"The hard part is, regardless of how you see yourself, you are going to
hit a certain weight that leads to illnesses associated with too much
weight," she says. "We have to get away from weight being about beauty
and attractiveness and desirability. We have to stop talking about those things
when it comes to health. What predominately white health care providers are
saying to African-Americans doesn't have any meaning."