November 2nd, 2010
03:59 PM ET

Obesity program little help for low-income girls

Low-income African American girls who participated in weight loss programs over two years showed little improvement, according to two new studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Researchers found little change in the girl's body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. (calculate your BMI here)

In the first study from Stanford University girls, were offered dance classes and other opportunities to get active. One group was offered hip-hop and other types of dance classes five time a week.  Researchers also went to their homes and helped them find activities they could do instead of spending time in front of the TV or computer.  The other group just received newsletters with activities focusing on health and nutrition.  Researchers also met quarterly with their parents.

The results were marginal with little to no improvement in BMI.  "BMI is proven to be a tougher risk factor to try and change," says lead study author, Dr. Thomas Robinson. But the news wasn't all negative.  "By even increasing activity at relatively small levels you can see improvements in risk factors for diabetes and heart disease," says Dr. Donna Matheson, a co-author on the study. "It's hard to change BMI...and I think even small changes can make a difference in these kids lives."

Researchers say there were other challenges.  "It was tough to work in this population. The low attendance rate was a struggle for us, and in the end we finally bought a van and we picked up the girls and brought them to class," says Matheson.

In the second study in Memphis, girls were divided into two groups, one promoting healthy eating behaviors and increasing physical activity while the other focused on increasing self-esteem.  The Memphis study found the intervention was not successful in preventing obesity.  "We were expecting more positive outcomes," says lead study author Dr. Robert Klesges of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.  They did however have some success with 8-year-old girls reducing their weight gain by about 10 percent.

So why is it so hard to encourage African American girls to lose weight?  Researchers think it has to do with the availability of healthy food options as well as the presence of safe areas for participants to engage in physical activity.    "If we are serious about the obesity problem we need to really look at broader things that target the community, the environment, the family unit, and I think it would take significant resources to do that," says Klesges.

"These studies support what we have learned previously: It's hard to get changes in BMI," says Dr. Andew Muir, chief of the division of pediatric endocrinology at Emory University.  "You've got to remove the barriers and you've got to not give them any reasons not to go. You've got to make it so that there is no wiggle room," says Muir.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Anna

    What a crock!

    I love how they have a random picture of girls that are not even BLACK!! They could be from an upper middle class neighborhood for all they know. 'Hey, get a picture of those brownish looking girls for our pointless racist article!' LOL. DUMB.

    November 2, 2010 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Improve Concentration

      Ha – i noticed that too!

      November 2, 2010 at 23:51 | Report abuse |
    • LNF

      Anna, those girls are black or at the very least biracial. How do I know this? You can tell by the hair. My daughters are biracial...as are the children of most of my friends and family.

      November 3, 2010 at 02:57 | Report abuse |
    • R

      I am sorry but you need to have your classes adjusted...the young ladies in the photo are of black american descent. But what is your point? Childhood obesity is an epidemic in our nation and you are focusing on a stock photo...sad.

      November 16, 2010 at 10:09 | Report abuse |

    What is the point of this? Enough with the prejudiced bullcrap articles CNN. Are you trying to brainwash people into thinking that helping low-income people is pointless? ' Oh, those minorites are stupid, fat and cant swim. Why help them?' Unbelievable.

    November 2, 2010 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Improve Concentration

      Whoa – fightin words

      November 2, 2010 at 23:51 | Report abuse |
  3. Amy

    What are you talking about, Anna? The girls look black to me, or at least mixed. You couldn't find anything else to cry about so you had to attack the picture of all things?

    November 2, 2010 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kate

    How long is this study for because they aren't going to see a big change in BMI if the study is only a few weeks. Do they take away all the help they were giving them? Did they educate the parents and did the parents even care? If they are surrounded by fast food and can't play outside cause it's dangerous then there is your reason for no change. It stinks but they need a complete overhaul of th whole system.

    November 2, 2010 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Maggie G

    I don't have any problem with the picture also Amy, I think Anna is just angry. However, I do question what it is this group is really trying to accomplish. To me it's pretty simple. You take away the ease with which the fast food chains gain access in the mostly poor parts of the USA. I live in a uppermiddleclass neighborhood and you cannot find a McDonald's within 5 miles of our town. Why? Because we will not let them in. In fact you will not find any fat food joints within a 5-10 mile radius. After you deal with that element and it's only a small part of the picture, you MUST deal with the schools. For God's sake, I've visited the elementary thru high school (schools) in Alabama, TN, and several other of the poorer states where obesity is the biggest problem and the schools promote obesity. The teachers are obese, the food they serve is obese, the Coca Cola's and Pepsis own the schools and run the states and it's sickening. That's where we need to start and it's just the cold hard facts that it will take time. I'm talking 10-20 years to effect a real change but if you don't take away the things that make it so easy to get obese then it will continue to be epidemic and it will get much worse. Take a look at any other country in the world that has poor people. They are not obese. I also think there should be rules about how food stamps are spend. I mean what kinds of food can be purchased. This could possibly have an impact but education has to be key then you work on the system.

    November 2, 2010 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Wet Wolf

    This is not surprising as one simple low calorie meal will have little affect on the striking obesity of these children simply because they stuff their faces with garbage as soon as they get home.


    November 2, 2010 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dr. Mama

    These interventions were not aggressive enough! You can't effectively treat an addiction - and a diet based on high calorie sugar, salt, and fat filled foods DOES re-wire the brain - with information about better alternatives and invitations to hip-hop class.

    Do we treat drug addiction with invitations to Narcotics Anonymous? Get real.


    November 3, 2010 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • anonymous

      You are so right!. First off, the idea that you need to take a bus to a hip-hop class when you live in the ghetto, i mean, c'mon, sorry that's just ridiculous. All you really need is a WII dance workout game and they are all set. No but seriously, Okay, so they are overweight and they don't leave the house much. Perhaps putting activities IN the environment they are in, school, etc. would be helpful, but really, as a country we are obese because there's plenty of food available and we don't have to do much of anything to get it. And that's not limited to POOR BLACK GIRLS in the hood.

      November 3, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse |
  8. Janet

    The drug makers and diabetes drug makers take in 10 billion$$$$ every year with no cure!!

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    November 3, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RiHo08

    Of course there is another possible answer for why African American girls don't loose weight, other than there aren't safe places to exercise as offered by the researchers, its the culture itself that is permissive and allows obesity not to be seen as a problem. If one looks at who is obese, at least for women, African Americian rural and urban, Latino rural and urban, Caucasian rural, and a growing group, Asian women, especially from India and Southeast Asia. Now,what do all of these people have in common? Mostly it is being a women and the complexity that that entails. Each racial/ethnic group is imbued with their culture and concepts such as what constitutes being "prosperous." Not too long ago, a century or so ago, thin people died at a high rate compared to obese. Obese people had enough to eat. If you were thin, that was bad. Only recently is thin "in". Changing perceptions of what is good or bad for the individual requires their entire culture to be supportive of the change: Grandma has to say that it is good to look one way or the another as well as what is seen in the magazine articles. Obesity incidence will level off as the culture catches up. Having plenty of food is a new experience for the human race. Sorting out that some foods or quantity of foods are better than others, does take some time.

    November 3, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Lincoln Brigham

    I don't buy this "exercising while black" excuse. Apparently the researchers did not entertain the idea that perhaps the basic tenets of their exercise and dietary protocols sucked.

    November 3, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 3, 2010 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. checkdent

    At first sight the article seams a bit racist cause it compares the results between races. But really it is not, cause they are clearly some physiological differences. Look at the athletes for an example, the best marathon runners are from Africa and it's not that they train harded, I think it's not bad to presume that they have some genetical predisposition which makes them better runners.

    November 4, 2010 at 07:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Herve Villachaiz

    I would love to see these bleeding hearts attempt this same study again, but use poor, fat, white children instead. They will find that the children will follow the program and lose weight as the study intended to prove. The only thing that they proved by trying to do this in the American black community is that blacks are inherently lazy, and even buying a bus and picking them up from their houses will not change that fact. Whites keep throwing money away on the black community thinking that they'll one day be able to help them. This is a falsity that some will never understand. Keep the free housing, food stamps, medical, and other benefits coming and stay out of their lives. They have no interest or intention of making themselves a worthwhile addition to the human race, as evidenced in every nation that they are a part of.

    November 4, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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    March 17, 2012 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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    February 26, 2013 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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