Could traditional black family ideals be promoting obesity?

April 5, 2018

By: Brandon Herring

Weight has pretty much always been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I was always the chubby kid and even throughout my teenage years I was always the big guy. Fortunately enough for me, I was never teased because of my weight so I didn’t develop any long-term insecurities or struggles with self-image or self-esteem (thank God).

However, as I ventured into college I had similar weight struggles as I did in my adolescent years. I was notoriously known around my campus as “Big Sexy” and was loved and praised for my stocky posture and solid frame.

It wasn’t until after college that I really began to understand that my weight was the result of an unhealthy lifestyle and sought to make changes. I decided to attempt to change, not because I was unhappy with myself, but because I knew I couldn’t continue to live the same unhealthy life in my adult years starting a career and understanding that life is only what you make it.

Through this journey of discovering healthier ways of living, I began to understand how our behaviors and relationship with food really affect us. I also began to discover how as black people we unconsciously promote and condition ourselves, families, and kids to not only engage in an unhealthy lifestyle but promote obesity without even knowing it.

Obesity is one of America’s biggest problems. Not surprisingly, African Americans are the most obese group in the United States. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans were 1.4 times more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites. While the facts are clear, I started to think what happens in our black lives that condition us to be overweight or contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.

It all starts as children. One of the many contributors to this is how we are often conditioned as children to have a relationship with food. For as long as I can remember, it’s a sin in a black household to not “clean your plate.”

As children, we are taught that in order to be dismissed from the dinner table we can’t leave a drop of food on our plates once dinner is served. While this is a practice black moms and grandmas over the world put in place and have made their signature, it conditions us to indulge in problematic thinking that we MUST eat everything sometimes even if we are full. I’m sure we can all relate to hearing this once or twice.

Black bodies have always been mocked for their curvature in the past. In today’s terms, we’ve moved to a place where “thick” and “curvy” are now glorified. All over we see the world duplicating the curvature of black women’s bodies everywhere. As a kid, I can remember black family members always telling the young girls to “put some meat on your bones,” our chastizing the smaller frame girls as needing to “thicken up.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with some beautiful thickness, but thickness without regard to overall health can cause some problems. We all love some BBW’s, especially Drake, but there is a fine line between BBW and a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

As babies, our girls are conditioned to desire thickness and a curvature that can sometimes come from a combination of unhealthy habits.

So are we unconsciously promoting obesity within our families and upbringing? Have we silently and unknowingly led to this epidemic? Let me know your thoughts.

Brandon Herring is a financial professional by day and ratchet scholar by night. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign his areas of specialty include personal finance, entrepreneurship, business, and marketing. He is a self-proclaimed know it all with a love for his community, and seeks to contribute philanthropically through financial education among African Americans.