“We Need a New Normal”

Sociocultural Constructions of Obesity and Overweight among African American Women

Authored by: Angelique Harris , David Nelson , Kimberly Salas Harris , Barbara A. Horner-Ibler , Edith Burns

The Ashgate Research Companion to Black Sociology

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472456762
eBook ISBN: 9781315612775
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044024


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Obesity/overweight has disproportionately impacted African American communities. Specifically, it has had a particularly negative impact on African American women who have the highest rates of obesity and overweight across all gender and racial/ethnic demographics (Ogden et al. 2013). Most clinical research examining obesity emphasizes comorbidities associated with excessive weight gain including hypertension, heart disease and diabetes (Kopelman 2007). However, previous intervention research examining these comorbidities among African Americans women has failed to consider sociocultural factors and barriers associated with obesity and overweight. Using data from six focus groups and Black feminist theory as the theoretical framework, this chapter examines the perceptions of, and experiences with, obesity and overweight among a sample of African American women in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The findings suggest that sociocultural factors influencing obesity and overweight include poverty, a lack of access to resources, perceptions of overweight as “normal” and the association of ‘skinny” with negative connotations. Focus group participants also highlight the importance of community assets and resources (e.g., religion, spirituality and the importance of “word of mouth” in passing along health information) as ways to address obesity and overweight within their community. These findings are discussed along with the implications they have for community health researchers in addressing this health issue among African American women.

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