- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

RICHMOND — Public health officials say black and Hispanic Virginians are more likely to be overweight, yet few of either minority group showed up at statewide meetings on the subject.

Next week, Virginia Health Department officials will sponsor a workshop to uncover special challenges minorities face in fighting obesity and develop a strategy for helping them shed extra pounds.

“We don’t know if the issues minorities face differ significantly from what we have heard in other meetings,” said Rachael Kennedy, obesity prevention coordinator for the department. “This meeting will help.”

The workshop, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, will help officials identify unique issues — notions of healthy eating as a “white thing,” for instance — that hinder weight loss in minorities.

Ideas will be incorporated this fall into a statewide plan to combat obesity.

More than 840 persons attended the town meetings in Roanoke, Fairfax and other cities.

The meetings were an outgrowth of the state’s Champion initiative, which gathers community voices to help slim down Virginians.

About 23.7 percent of 1,027 Virginians surveyed by telephone qualified as obese, according to a report released in March by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Blacks and Hispanics are among the heaviest.

A 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 69 percent of black Virginians overweight.

A 2004 analysis of Virginia families enrolled in WIC, a federally funded grocery voucher plan, found 26 percent of Hispanic children ages 2 to 5 were either overweight or at risk for becoming overweight.

Cultural emphasis on large, social meals can cause weight gain in Hispanics, said Lisa Zajur, director of the Spanish Academy and Cultural Institute in Richmond.

“We love to get together and eat,” she said.

Meanwhile, a prevalence of cheap fast food, a lack of safe areas to exercise in urban neighborhoods and fatty family recipes help blacks pack on pounds, said Dr. Lucille Norville Perez, the NAACP’s national health director.

Complicating matters are cultural norms praising a fuller figure.

“You want ‘My Baby’s Got Back,’” she said, referring to the ‘90s rap hit. “[But] does that mean my baby’s going to check out of here when she’s 60?”

Miss Norville Perez called the meeting a good first step. She encouraged health officials to hold additional minority roundtables and consider health-oriented TV commercials featuring blacks and other minorities.

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