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Sep 14, 2011

Overweight and Obesity and Risk of Death Among Black Women

Obesity more than doubles risk for death among black women.

Most research shows that increased weight is associated with increased risk for death from any cause, including heart disease. However, overweight and obesity can affect races differently. For example, in whites, risk for death increases as weight rises past a healthy level, while increased weight is not associated with increased risk of death among South Asians. And limited studies have shown that among blacks, risk for death only increases with obesity, not overweight. But a recent study has disproven this belief, showing that risk for death does indeed increase with weight in black women — beginning with overweight.

This study published in the New England Journal of Medicine used data from the Black Women’s Health Study from 1995 to 2008 to determine the relationship between weight and risk for death among black women. Researchers used waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), a ratio of height and weight, to determine whether a person was a healthy weight (<25.0), overweight (25.0–29.9) or obese (>30.0). Among more than 51,500 study participants, researchers found that black women classified as overweight were 12–31% more likely to die than those that were a healthy weight, while black women considered obese were at 27–51% increased risk than their healthy counterparts. And those who were morbidly obese (BMI 40–49.9) were more than two times more likely to die from any cause than women of a healthy weight. Interestingly, a large waist circumference was only associated with an increased risk for death among women considered overweight (not obese) with a BMI less than 30.

Based on study findings, it is clear that risk for death rises with increased weight among black women, similar to the pattern observed among whites.  Accordingly, it is important that black women who are overweight or obese talk with their healthcare providers about losing weight in order to decrease risk of death and heart disease. Through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, women have the power to achieve a healthy weight and vastly improve their overall and cardiovascular health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why are races affected disproportionally by overweight and obesity?
  • There are many factors that may affect the health and weight of different populations, such as diet, culture and genetics. However, further research is needed to determine the exact causes.
  • Why can increased weight increase risk for death?

  • Although the body needs some fat to function properly, carrying excess fat increases risk for a variety of health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, and can take a toll on the body over time. Therefore, by losing excess weight, you can help improve your overall health and reduce risk for death.

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