The Black Community, Food, and Excess Weight

Historically, for black Americans, church has been a place of refuge. In the words of
Frederick H. Lowe, “racially motivated slights, the tense anticipation of slights, or worse, the possibility of violent physical assault” were less likely to occur there than in other locales. Even so, history has recorded heinous assaults on consecrated ground. To a greater extent in the past, but even now, to be black in America requires a hyper-vigilant state of awareness that can be exhausting to maintain.

Church was (and still is) the source of emotional healing. The tradition of the after-service dinner has apparently been so pervasive that some observers attribute the high obesity rate among congregations to the communal meals alone. “Soul food” is comfort food, and does account for a certain amount of the obesity that is disproportionately present in the African-American community.

Why do people seek out comfort food? Because of psychological tension and uncertainty. Stress comes from “living in poverty and residing in neighborhoods with inadequate housing and high crime rates.” However, people in the lower economic stratum are not only ones affected. James S. Jackson, of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, explains that “even middle-class or wealthy blacks suffer from daily micro-aggressions — subtle or not so subtle racist insults.”

Why food is good

In an unstable, chaotic environment, women are probably less tempted than men to do things that would put them in jail, especially when there are children to take care of. So, a certain number of women avoid drug use for that reason. Even though alcohol is legal, a type of person might shun it, through dreading to follow in the footsteps of an abusive drunken relative. Many poor people are so busy working and doing family care, they don’t have the luxury of relieving their stress through affairs.

Overeating has a lot to recommend it. As vices go, it has advantages. Overeating rarely creates dramatically memorable scenes involving fisticuffs, nudity, flinging drinks in people’s faces, or standing on edges of rooftops. It will probably not lead to arrest, divorce, or eternal damnation. The self-inflicted injury will be subtle and more corrosive than explosive. Obtaining authorization for medical help is arduous, but self-medicating with ice cream is a widely available option.

And food, especially crummy food, is relatively cheap, compared to a lot of other commodities. This is why some reformers want to ban BOGO sales, otherwise known as “buy one, get one” or “two for the price of one” promotions. Because, why make crummy food even cheaper? And then other voices chime in, protesting the nanny state, and asking why people should be patronized and bossed around just because they have less money than the bosses and patrons.

At any rate, in the United States, almost 40 percent of black men and close to 60 percent of black women are obese. This is the perfect moment to recall the inspired movement started by Nurse Bowick in Rochester, NY. It is also an apt moment to appreciate Afro-American men who, as Lowe and many others have noted, are very accepting of ample women’s figures, creating a culture where “thick” is not an insult, but a non-judgmental descriptor.


Source: “Eat, Pray, Gain — Black Church Meals May Serve Fellowship With Obesity,”, 02/09/16
Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida on Visualhunt/No known copyright restrictions

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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