Extra Weight Increases Risk of Death for Black Women

November 12, 2012

Extra Weight Increases Risk of Death for Black Women

It has been identified that carrying those extra pounds around the middle of the body increases your risk of dying if you are a black woman. The amount of excess weight reflects the increase in risk. If the woman is very heavy then her risk of dying is higher than a woman who is not so heavy. Overweight women have a higher risk of dying than black women who are normal weight.

The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine included data from the Black Women’s Health Study, which is a nation wide survey of over 50,000 black women in America. The participants in the survey were aged between 21 and 69 at the beginning of the study in 1995. No one had been diagnosed with, or had a history of cancer or heart disease at that time.

The study ended in 2008 and the women had been contacted every two years throughout the study.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Julie Palmer, a professor of epidemiology at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University said that, “The risk of death increased incrementally with rising body mass index (BMI). Once women were above normal weight, they had an increased risk of death”. However she pointed out the finding that was found predominantly in normal weight women by saying, “independent of BMI, women who had a higher waist circumference had an increased risk of death”.

BMI is a tool used to estimate a person’s body fat by comparing height and weight.

Palmer also accepted that as women’s weight rises, the health risks of a larger waist circumference will be masked because of the increased health risks caused by obesity. Other studies have estimated from their findings that by 2020, 70% of black women in America will be obese. They also predict that 90% of black American women will have abdominal obesity.

While earlier research was being interpreted by some as saying that black women were not at as much risk of death by being obese as white or Asian women, the authors of this study did not agree. They believed that their socioeconomic position and smoking were factors which were masking the true effects of obesity in black women.

Throughout the period of the study 770 non smoking women died. The researchers identified that women with a BMI in the normal range, that’s 20 to 24.9 had the lowest risk of dying. However when non smoking women became overweight their risk of dying rose. When a woman had a BMI of 25 to 27.4, her risk of death when compared to normal weight increased by 12%. When the BMI was in the range 27.5 to 29.9 that risk factor rose to 31%.

When non smoking black women reached the BMI range of 30 to 34.9 they faced a 27% higher risk of death. Obese is classified from a BMI of 30 upwards. The risk of death grows to 51% higher than women with a normal BMI when the BMI range of 35 to 39.9 is reached. Women with a BMI figure higher than that have more than doubled their risk of dying compared to women in the normal range.

Researchers noted a link between the risk of death and having a large waist circumference. The link was most obvious when the BMI was under 30. The study also found that women with waists from 40 to 47 inches, when compared to women whose waists were 26 to 27 inches, had a 40% increased risk of death.

Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of bariatric surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City points out that, “BMI is just a number. The distribution of the fat means something”. He explains that body shape has a bearing by saying, “When you see people who have larger hips and buttocks, they usually don’t have diabetes or cardiac disease, but they have a high risk of joint disease and other problems. People who are apple-shaped tend to have more cardiac disease and diabetes, and we used to think it was just the apples that we had to worry about, but now we know it’s just different problems”.

He further points out that the way forward is by lifestyle changes. He says, “The take-away from this is that we all need to eat healthier. The healthiest foods come from in the ground, not the middle aisles of the supermarket. And, physical fitness mitigates a lot of risk”.

He finishes by showing an understanding of human weakness when he says, “it’s important to realize that losing any weight is helpful, even if you’re still in a higher risk category. If a woman with a BMI of 33 lowers it to 28, she still has a higher risk according to the study, but she will feel so much better”.


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