Obesity: The Weight of the Matter

It is often said, “We are a product of our environments.” In many respects this is true. In the African American culture, we tend to embrace the habits and behaviors of our surroundings. We don’t think of our childhood or adulthood lifestyles as unhealthy because we tend to repeat the behaviors we have always known.

Fast-paced and stressful workdays, a lack of physical activity, poor nutritional choices, and sedentary downtime are all factors that have led to skyrocketing levels of obesity, but are the norm in the American lifestyle. Consequently, problems like hypertension, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, pulmonary disease, depression, and conditions involving the musculoskeletal system plague obese populations. Additionally, the study of obesity reflects underlying economic and income inequalities, community disadvantages, and social class divisions. With the rapidly increasing pace of obesity, the weight of the matter is both individual and societal.

The term “obese” is often confused with “overweight.” We know the difference as health professionals, but the communities we serve may not. Healthy weights are determined using the Body Mass Index (BMI). People with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight. Those with a BMI of 30 or greater are obese.

Obesity has become one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century, due to its prevalence, cost, and health effects. It cuts from a wide swath of people, spanning all ages and genders, making it a national priority. Obesity has reduced the lifespan of entire communities and dismantled their quality of life. African Americans are killing their bodies when they do not make the connection between lifestyle behaviors and their outcomes.

One effective strategy for solving the obesity epidemic is through educating ourselves. Taking ownership of our bodies, recognizing the problems, and changing our attitudes will help us make knowledgeable decisions about our health. Although countless excuses, from a lack of role models to fast-food conveniences, may attempt to undermine addressing the real issue, the life or death importance of seeking solutions should resonate beyond the perception that fighting obesity is futile.

For the Fort Bend County Black Nurses Association (FBCBNA), the fight against obesity is persistent. This year, FBCBNA is celebrating its 10th anniversary. We challenged our members to lose 10 pounds in honor of the occasion. The National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) awarded the FBCBNA a $1,000 seed grant to fund the initiative and develop strategies to tackle obesity. The grant will be used to introduce interventions, like personal training tips and group exercise activities, as well as community education, such as teaching people how to read food labels.

As nurses, we need to practice what we preach. Fighting obesity from within our local chapter seems like a sensible choice. Nurses do an excellent job giving advice and caring for others, but don’t always do a good job caring for themselves. Reducing one’s BMI requires changing behaviors and making lifelong healthful decisions. The FBCBNA’s obesity initiative is titled “BMI Beware: A Nursing Association’s Strategy for Changing Body Mass Index.”

The pillars of combating obesity are balanced nutritional meals and physical activity. Portion control, knowledge of ingredients, informed reading of food labels, and nutritious food choices are fundamental in changing unhealthy behaviors and developing improved lifestyles. The fight to conquer obesity must have multiple layers of intervention. Aerobic and resistance fitness programs, avoiding fast food purchases, planned healthy meals and snacks, and adequate hydration, specifically water, are all positive ways to intervene in this epidemic.

The goal in all this is to make a conscious assessment of our obesity problem. Personal lifestyle and behavior changes must be developed and then practiced daily to make a real impact. Opportunities to take on new and rewarding lifestyle changes are all around us. We just have to get moving—one day at a time, one step at a time. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and society. The obesity epidemic is serious. As we collectively transition toward healthier choices and better lifestyle routines, sharing knowledge and becoming more educated as health professionals will lead our communities to positive results.