The Clinton Crime Family
2012-12-14 22:10:51 UTC
Nicole Ari Parker was motivated by frustration. For Star Jones,
it was a matter of life or death. Toni Carey wanted a fresh
start after a bad breakup.
All three have launched individual campaigns that reflect an
emerging priority for African-American women: finding creative
ways to combat the obesity epidemic that threatens their
African-American women have the highest obesity rate of any
group of Americans. Four out of five black women have a body
mass index above 25 percent, the threshold for being overweight
or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. By comparison, nearly two-thirds of Americans
overall are in this category, the CDC said.
Many black women seem to be unaffected by being generally
heavier than other Americans.
Calorie-rich, traditional soul food is a staple in the diets of
many African-Americans, and curvy black women are embraced
positively through slang praising them as "thick" with a "little
meat on their bones," or through songs like the Commodore's
"Brick House" or "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child. A study by
the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post earlier
this year found that 66 percent of overweight black women had
high self-esteem, while 41 percent of average-sized or thin
white women had high self-esteem.
Still, that doesn't mean black women reject the need to become
Historically black, all-female Spelman College in Atlanta is
disbanding its NCAA teams and devoting those resources to a
campus-wide wellness program. In an open letter announcing
Spelman's "wellness revolution," president Beverly Daniel Tatum
cited a campus analysis that found many of Spelman's 2,100
students already have high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or
other chronic ailments.
"Spelman has an opportunity to change the health trajectory of
our students and, through their influence, the communities from
which they come," Tatum's letter said.
Jones, who underwent open heart surgery in 2010 at age 47 and
now urges awareness about heart disease among black women, was
met by an overflow crowd earlier this year when she convened a
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation panel on black women and
"We have to get ourselves out of being conditioned to think that
using soft words so we don't hurt peoples' feelings is doing
them any favor," Jones said. "Curvy, big-boned, hefty, full-
figured, fluffy, chubby. Those are all words designed to make
people feel better about themselves. That wasn't helpful to me."
Jones once embraced being large and fabulous, at 5 feet 5 inches
tall and 300 pounds. But under that exterior, she said, she was
morbidly obese, suffering from extreme fatigue, nausea,
lightheadedness, heart palpitations and blurred vision. Now, she
advises women to make simple changes such as reducing salt
intake, exercising 30 minutes a day, quitting smoking,
controlling portion sizes and making nutritious dietary choices.
Nutritionist and author Rovenia M. Brock, known professionally
as Dr. Ro, agrees with Jones. She said getting active is only
about 20 percent of the fight against obesity. The rest revolves
around how much people eat. "Our plates are killing us," she
Brock said "food deserts," or urban areas that lack quality
supermarkets, are a real obstacle. She suggested getting around
that by carpooling with neighbors to stores in areas with higher-
quality grocery options or buying food in bulk. She also
suggested growing herbs and vegetables in window-box gardens.
"Stop focusing on what's not there, or what you think is not
there," Brock said. "We have to get out of this wimpy, 'woe is
While first lady Michelle Obama has encouraged exercise through
her "Let's Move" campaign targeting childhood obesity, the spark
for this current interest among black women may have been
comments last year by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who
observed publicly that women must stop allowing concern about
their hair to prevent them from exercising.
Some black women visit salons as often as every two weeks,
investing several hours and anywhere from $50 to several
hundreds of dollars each visit activity that, according to the
Black Owned Beauty Supply Association, helps fuel a $9 billion
black hair care and cosmetics industry.
In an interview during a health conference in Washington last
week, Benjamin said the damage sweat can inflict on costly
hairstyles can affect women's willingness to work out, and she
hopes to change that. She goes to beauty industry conferences to
encourage stylists to create exercise-friendly hairdos.
"I wouldn't say we use it as an excuse, we use it as a barrier,"
Benjamin said. "And that's not one of the barriers anymore.
We're always going to have problems with balancing our lives,
but we could take that one out."
Parker, an actress, understands this dilemma well. Out of
personal frustration over maintaining both her workout and her
hair, she created "Save Your Do" Gymwrap a headband that can
be wrapped around the hair in a way that minimizes sweat and
"Not just as a black woman, but as a woman, since the beginning
of time, beauty has been our responsibility," Parker said in an
interview. Because of that, she said, exercise has become linked
with vanity instead of health.
"We've turned exercise into a weight-loss regimen," Parker said.
"No. Exercise is about being grateful for the body you have and
sustaining the life you have. ... Take all the hype out of the
exercise and think of it as brushing your teeth."
With their mutual family histories of diabetes and high blood
pressure in mind, Carey, 28, and her sorority sister Ashley
Hicks, 29, co-founded the running club Black Girls Run. Carey
also considered it a new beginning after a bad breakup and a
move across country. Since 2009, Black Girls Run has amassed
52,000 members who serve as a support system for runners.
Black Girls Run has about 60 groups nationwide that coordinate
local races in Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Washington,
D.C, Houston and Greensboro, N.C. Most groups run at least five
times a week. Next month, the running club will take its first
"Black Girls Run Preserve the Sexy" tour to cities with high
obesity rates. The tour includes health and fitness clinics with
information on nutrition, hair maintenance and running gear.
"We found that when you want to get healthy and when you want to
be active, it's intimidating," Carey said. "You don't know where
to start. There's a little coaxing that has to go along with
Parker said once African-American women place value on their
bodies and longevity, everything else will follow. It costs her
nothing, she said, to walk around an outdoor track with her
husband, actor Boris Kodjoe, or run up and down stairs with her
"One good step breeds another one," Parker said. "You're going
to have one less margarita, one less scoop of Thanksgiving
macaroni ... and yet you're not doing anything fanatical or