Inequities in a range of factors — income, stable and affordable housing, access to quality education and others — all influence a person’s chance to live a longer, healthier life.1 These inequities and disparate access to affordable, healthy food or safe places to be physically active, contribute to higher rates of obesity and related illnesses in Black communities.
African American adults are nearly 1.5 times as likely to be obese compared with White adults. Approximately 47.8 percent of African Americans are obese (including 37.1 percent of men and 56.6 percent of women) compared with 32.6 percent of Whites (including 32.4 percent of men and 32.8 percent of women).2 More than 75 percent of African Americans are overweight or obese (including 69 percent of men and 82.0 percent of women) compared with 67.2 percent of Whites (including 71.4 percent of men and 63.2 percent of women).3
Overweight and obesity rates also tend to be higher among African American children compared with White children, with obesity rates increasing faster at earlier ages and with higher rates of severe obesity. From 1999 to 2012, 35.1 percent of African American children ages 2 to 19 were overweight, compared with 28.5 percent of White children; and 20.2 percent were obese compared with 14.3 percent of White children.4
- Nationally, in 2011 to 2012, 20.5 percent of African American girls were obese compared with 15.6 percent of White girls, and 19.9 percent of African American boys were obese compared with 12.6 percent of White boys.5
- More than 8 percent of African American children ages 2 to 19 were severely obese, compared with 3.9 percent of White children (BMI greater than 120 percent of the weight and height percentiles for an age rage) as of 2012.6
- More than 11 percent of African American children ages 2 to 5 were obese, compared with 3.5 percent of White children. By ages 6 to 11, 23.8 percent of African American children were obese compared with 13.1 percent of Whites.7 Three-quarters of the difference in rates that arise between African American and White children happens between the third and eighth grades.8
Addressing these disparities requires making healthier choices easier in people’s daily lives by removing obstacles that make healthy, affordable food less accessible and ensuring communities have more safe and accessible places for people to be physically active.
Access to affordable, healthy food
Lower-incomes and poverty correlate strongly with an increase in obesity, since less nutritious, calorie-dense foods are often less expensive than healthier foods.9 African American families have earned $1 for every $2 earned by White families for the past 30 years.10 More than 38 percent of African American children under age 18 and 42.7 percent of children under age 5 live below the poverty line,11 and more than 12 percent of African American families live in deep poverty (at less than 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold).12 One in four African American families are food insecure (not having consistent access to adequate food due to lack of money or other resources), compared with 11 percent of White households.13
Families in predominantly minority and low-income neighborhoods have limited access to supermarkets and fresh produce. A study of selected communities found that only 8 percent of African American residents lived in areas with one or more supermarkets, compared with 31 percent of White residents.14 When compared with other neighborhoods, without regard to income, predominantly Black neighborhoods have the most limited access to supermarkets and to the healthier foods such markets sell.15 According to the 2013 YRBS, 11.3 percent of Black youths did not eat vegetables during the prior week, compared to 4.5 percent of White youths.16 Black high school students are almost twice as likely to not eat breakfast daily compared with their White peers, which can be a contributing factor to less healthy eating patterns overall, weight gain and poorer performance in school.17
Higher exposure to marketing of less nutritious foods
Each day, African American children see twice as many calories advertised in fast food commercials as White children.18 The products most frequently marketed to African Americans are high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and beverages. Billboards and other forms of outdoor advertisements, which often promote foods of low nutritional value, are 13 times denser in predominantly African American neighborhoods than White neighborhoods.19
Limited access to safe places to be physically active
Achieving a healthy energy balance also requires engaging in sufficient amounts of physical activity.20 As of 2010, African Americans were 70 percent less likely to engage in physical activity than Whites.21 According to the 2013 YRBS, 21.5 percent of Black youth did not participate in at least one hour of daily physical activity during the prior week, compared with 12.7 percent of White youth.22
Children in neighborhoods that lack access to parks, playgrounds and recreation centers have a 20 percent to 45 percent greater risk of becoming overweight.23 National-based studies show that access to public parks, public pools and green space is much lower in neighborhoods largely occupied by African Americans.24 Safety concerns also further limit outdoor activities among African American children. Sidewalks in African American communities are 38 times more likely to be in poor condition According to a recent study, how African American mothers perceive neighborhood safety, and specifically the threat of violence, strongly influences the amount of daily outdoor play in which their young daughters participate.25
WHY INEQUITIES IN OBESITY RATES MATTER
- The rates of deaths from heart disease and stroke are almost twice as high among African Americans than Whites.26
- More than 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. African American adults are twice as likely as White adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.27
- The annual medical costs associated with obesity have been estimated as high as $190 billion (in 2005 dollars) — accounting for 21 percent of all medical spending.28 High rates of chronic illnesses, which in many cases are preventable, are among the biggest drivers of healthcare costs and reduce worker productivity. A study by the Urban Institute found that the differences in rates among Latinos, African Americans and Whites for a set of preventable diseases (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, renal disease and stroke — many of which are often related to obesity) cost the healthcare system $23.9 billion annually.29 Based on current trends, by 2050, this is expected to double to $50 billion a year.
- Eliminating health inequalities — closing the gaps in the health differences by race and ethnicity — could lead to reduced medical expenditures of $54 billion to $61 billion a year and recover $13 billion annually due to work lost as a result of illness and around $250 billion per year due to premature deaths, according to a study of 2003 to 2006 spending.
For more information log on to: http://stateofobesity.org/disparities/blacks/