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Study Finds More Obesity in African-Americans Given Heart Stress Tests

Dec. 13, 2004 -- Too many Americans suffer from poor fitness and obesity. African-Americans are at particularly high risk, a new study shows.

Carl J. Lavie, MD, is co-director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans. Lavie and colleagues collected data on more than 5,000 men and women aged 52-74 who underwent treadmill heart stress tests at the Ochsner Clinic.

The major findings:

  • On average, African-American men in the study were three years younger than the white men, yet African-American men's fitness capacity was 7% lower than that of white men. The difference is considered significant.
  • On average, African-American women in the study were four years younger than the white women. Yet African-American women's fitness capacity was 3% lower than that of white women. This difference is not considered significant.
  • African-American men were more likely to be obese than white men: 44% vs. 33%.
  • African-American women were more likely to be obese than white women: 37% vs. 27%.
  • African-American women were also more likely than white women to be severely obese: 19% vs. 11%.

"Even correcting for obesity, African-Americans are slightly less fit," Lavie tells WebMD. "Everyone in the country needs to be thinking about their weight and their fitness. Our data support [that] this is of even greater urgency in African-Americans."

Lavie's study appears in the December issue of the journal Chest.

Lavie notes that the best predictor of premature death is poor physical fitness. He points to studies showing that the best way people can reduce their risk of early death is to improve their exercise capacity.

"The message here is that both obesity and fitness are very important to all races and genders," he says. "But in African-Americans, we need even greater attention not only to reducing weight, but in improving fitness. The two go together but are separate, too."

Obstacles to Fitness

Sheila P. Davis, PhD, is professor of nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. She has studied African-American children living in the rural south and found high levels of obesity and low levels of fitness.

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