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Losing Weight: Why it’s Different for Black Women


Scientists may have discovered the reason why it may be particularly difficult for obese Black women to lose weight.

The answer lies in the belly fat that was studied from 14 severely obese Black women. Hisham Barakat, PhD, along with his colleagues, conducted the study in the medicine department of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

“Obese African American women lose less weight and at a slower rate than Caucasian women do across a variety of treatments including conservative interventions, very low calorie intake and surgery,” Dr. Barakat’s team writes in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Of course, these findings should be viewed as generalizations, since every case is different.

The study also concluded that a woman’s education level or age doesn’t seem to completely account for the weight loss gap. That’s why Dr. Barakat and his team explored another possible factor.

The medical research team studied 14 White women and 14 Black women, all of whom were extremely obese, with a body mass index of more than 40. A body mass index of 30 or more is medically considered obese. The women involved in the study came to East Carolina University to have gastric bypass surgery. During their surgeries, doctors took samples of the women’s body fat, with prior permission.

Some of the fat was taken from directly below the women’s skin. Other fat samples were from the deep abdominal region. There were specific cellular receptors in the fat tissues of these women. These receptors served as docks for a chemical substance called adenosine, which curbs the breakdown of fat. Dr. Barakat and his colleagues discovered that the Black women in the study had more adenosine receptors in the fat that was taking from their abdominal area than the obese White women.

While researchers did point out that their findings don’t completely explain why weight loss can be more of a challenge for obese Black women, they do write that the results of the study “shed light on the potential causes behind the lesser and slower rate of weight loss of obese [African-American] women.”

This information could certainly be helpful when it comes to designing weight loss plans and strategies that can both prevent and control obesity in Black women. Dr. Barakat and his team state that the information can prove beneficial when coming up with weight loss strategies for women of other ethnicities as well.

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