when I worked at a medical weight loss center, that Black people in general, weigh more than other races. So it still surprises me as a Personal Trainer when I perform a body composition analysis for a Black person and I have to explain to them why their weight and Body Mass Index indicators need not discourage them. We need not compare ourselves to general standards.
BMI or Body Mass Index measures the proportion of weight to height. This number is used when determining what a healthy weight is. Studies by Dr. Samuel Dagogo-Jack and Peter T. Katzmarzyk have shown that Black people are denser and more muscular then other races, meaning BMI charts for Black people are largely inaccurate.
As much as I am aware of this, I still have to use these measures when training my clients, so that we have a reference to track progress, but I make a point to explain to them these are not their standards and they shouldn’t compare themselves to anyone else.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION TO ASK IS WHO DECIDED THESE RANGES AND WHAT CRITERIA DID THEY USE TO DETERMINE THE RANGES OF BODY FAT?
Existing BMI Scales:
Category BMI (KG/M2)
Under Weight Less than 18.5
Normal 18.5 – 24.9
Overweight 25 – 29.9
Obese I 30 – 34.9
Obese II 35 – 39.9
Extreme Obesity More than 40
Existing BMI and WC (Waist Circumference) guidelines are derived from studies of predominately White and European populations and do not take into account physiological differences due to ethnicity and race. These are the numbers your doctor uses when they tell you, you need to lose 80lbs when you thought you only needed to lose 55lbs. Studies also show that the BMI of Asians should be set lower than the BMI of Whites due to increased diabetes risks and petite body weight.
Dr. Dagogo-Jack asserts that a Black person with the same BMI as a White person — that is, the same gender, waist size, weight and height — will usually have lower fat and abdominal fat. Dagogo-Jack and his team at the University of Tennessee used more direct measurements of body fat to see if they corresponded to what BMI seemed to indicate. He found that Black people have lower body fat and concluded that muscle mass in Black people might be higher.
BLACK WOMEN CAN CARRY MORE WEIGHT THAN WHITE WOMEN AND STILL BE CONSIDERED HEALTHY.
Reuters Health, of a 2011 study conducted by Peter T. Katzmarzyk concluded that Black women can carry more weight than White women and still be considered healthy. Dr. Katamarzyk thought a possible reason for the contrast might be the difference in the way body fat is distributed in women among the races.
THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE TO NOT EXERCISE.
This is not an excuse to avoid exercising and eating better! Diabetes and High Blood pressure are still major concerns in the Black community. Unlike the United States, the Government of Canada does not collect health data by race or ethnicity. Therefore, Canadian national health surveys do not provide specific information on the health of Black Canadians. However, Health Canada released a document in April 2000 outlining the health issues among Black and Caribbean Canadian Communities. A number of health conditions have been identified as having a significant impact on the health of Black-Canadians; these included diabetes, heart disease and stroke, hypertension, depression and arthritis among others.
Paffenbarger (1996) states that physical fitness and exercise can reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, some cancers, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, and obesity. Studies also show that exercise can promote psychological well-being and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Heart attacks are caused by inadequate blood flow to the heart. Like any muscle in the body, the heart muscle becomes stronger with regular exercise.
The American Diabetes Association states "exercise promotes the entry of glucose into the cells, helping the body to use its food supply more efficiently and to lower blood sugar levels". Exercise can be an effective way to prevent the onset of diabetes. Exercise can also be helpful for those who already have diabetes.
"Research shows a predictably higher mortality rate in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients who are inactive." (Welch,et. al, 1995)
WORK WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT!
There is enormous societal pressure for women AND men alike to possess an unrealistic body type and weight. I have always wanted and strived for a “sexy Victoria Secret body” but there is one thing I had to come to terms with, my narrow hips and thick waist are not going to allow for me to have a Victoria Secret Runway model curves. So I had to adjust my thinking and work within my body composition. The body’s composition can be divided between lean tissue (muscle, water, bone) and fat tissue. Once I became more aware and accepting of my body I could focus on lowering my body fat % and molding my body into the most stealth, lean machine that it could be.
Even after losing over 10% body fat and getting down to my University track athlete 22 year old weight at the age of 35. I still weighed over 10-20lbs more than women of other races my same height and build. People would guess my weight to be 110-115lbs when I was actually 135-140lbs! If I wasn’t aware of the density of my muscle I probably would have been discouraged.
Receiving inaccurate information can have a negative effect as many are discouraged from working to improve their health through eating better and exercise because the health standards are unattainable.
DON’T ACCEPT THE NORM AS YOUR NORM!
There have been a number of articles written about the topic of BMI not taking considerations for different body compositions and how that pertains to Black people. But still there is wide set ignorance on the subject. Make your health a priority. Black people should consult their doctors to determine their body build and muscle mass to get a more accurate healthy weight range. Remind your doctors to take into affect that you are Black and may not fit into the regular BMI scale. Ask questions and get the answers you need. If you’re doctor isn’t sure, ask them to find out and get back to you. It is their job to give you all the information you need. Don’t accept mediocrity when it comes to your health for that affects the quality of your life, your immediate and future families as well.
Get yourself ready, get yourself involved and stay involved in a regular exercise routine. Take a fitness class, hire a personal trainer, join a walking/running group, take up a sport, whatever it is stay healthy.
Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living recommends individuals should accumulate 60 minutes of physical activity (endurance, flexibility and strength) everyday to stay healthy or improve health.