Geneva M. Edwards, RN, MS


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2003;3(2) 

In This Article


Obesity is very common in the United States, affecting many Americans. Factors such as genetics, behavior, environment, and lifestyle all play a significant role in the development of obesity. The effects of obesity shorten an individual's life, with more than 300,000 Americans dying from conditions attributed to obesity every year.[1,2] Unfortunately during the last 20 years, obesity has significantly increased in both the adult and pediatric populations, with greater prevalence in some cultures.[3,4]

Foods known as soul food are a part of the African-American heritage. Many African Americans eat soul food -- foods typically high in fat, which increases the risk for developing obesity. As healthcare providers, we must recognize this health risk among African Americans and develop measures to help control, and possibly modify, these risks, taking into account tradition, culture, individuality, and economics.

Obesity is defined as an increased amount of body fat. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fatness and is calculated using the following formula:

BMI = Weight in kilograms/(Height in meters)2

A BMI from 25.0 through 29.9 indicates overweight. A BMI from 30 through 39.9 indicates moderate obesity, and a BMI of 40 or above indicates severe obesity. An individual may be overweight but not obese. For example, individuals may weigh more due to an increase in lean body muscle and not fat. These individuals weigh more in relation to their height, but have a BMI less than 30.0. Regardless of how much an individual may weigh, a BMI > 30 in both women and men is considered moderately obese.[1,4]

Obesity is strongly associated with unhealthy diets.[5] The American Obesity Association compared the prevalence of obesity in the United States in different cultures (whites, Hispanics, and African Americans) and reported that obesity is more prevalent in African Americans. Obesity occurs 1.8% more frequently in African Americans than in Hispanics and 9.0% more frequently than in whites. African Americans of all socioeconomic levels are affected with obesity, with African-American women and people with low incomes at the highest risk.[1]


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