The heavier a woman is, the greater her risk of dying early, than her normal-weight peers. Carrying extra weight, especially around the middle, is a risk factor for death among black women. The risk of death increases incrementally with rising body mass index (BMI). Once women are above normal weight, they have an increased risk of early death.
Overall obesity and abdominal obesity are both increasing rapidly in America. It’s projected that by 2020, as many as 70 percent of black women in America will be obese and up to 90 percent will have abdominal obesity, according to background information in the study.
Some previous research had suggested that obesity might not increase the risk of death as much for black women as it does for white or Asian women in America. The current study included data from the Black Women’s Health Study, a national sample of almost 52,000 black women in America. The women were between the ages of 21 and 69 when they enrolled in the study, and none had a history of cancer or heart disease.
The study began in 1995 and continued through 2008. The women were contacted every two years during the study. Among nonsmokers, the researchers found that the risk of death was lowest for those who had a BMI in the range of 20 to 24.9, which is considered normal. (BMI is an estimate of body fat using height and weight.)
As soon as women crossed the threshold to overweight, however, the risk of dying increased. For women with a BMI of 25 to 27.4, the risk of death was 12 percent higher than for women with a normal BMI. With a BMI of 27.5 to 29.9, nonsmoking black women had a 31 percent increased risk of death.
At 30 to 34.9 — a BMI of 30 is considered obese — nonsmoking black women faced a 27 percent higher risk of death. When BMI reached 35 to 39.9, the risk of death increased to 51 percent higher compared to women of normal BMI. Women whose BMIs were 40 to 49.9 faced a death risk more than double that of a normal-weight woman.
“When you see people who have larger hips and buttocks, they usually don’t have diabetes or cardiac disease, but they have a high risk of joint disease and other problems. People who are apple-shaped tend to have more cardiac disease and diabetes, and we used to think it was just the apples that we had to worry about, but now we know it’s just different problems,” he said.
“The take-away from this is that we all need to eat healthier. The healthiest foods come from in the ground, not the middle aisles of the supermarket. And, physical fitness mitigates a lot of risk,” Roslin added.
He also said it’s important to realize that losing any weight is helpful, even if you’re still in a higher risk category. “If a woman with a BMI of 33 lowers it to 28, she still has a higher risk according to the study, but she will feel so much better,” Roslin said.