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Obesity, Race and Equity


Transportation and Health Equity Series, Part III

In this third installment, guest author Sara Schooley finishes laying the groundwork for understanding our nation's public health problems in relation to equity.

So we’ve established that the United States is in a bit of a kerfuffle when it comes to obesity. But the kerfuffle gets kerfuffle-ier.  There are huge differences in obesity rates between races.  Check out the maps below to see what I’m talking about.

For starters, look at Oregon.  For white Oregonians, 20-24% are categorized as obese (see side note) the CDC categorizes obese as a Body Mass Index >30.  So for example, I am 5’8” and to get a BMI ≥30, I would have to weigh 196lbs.  (You can calculate your own BMI here).  For Black, non-Hispanic Oregonians, over 35% are obese.  And looking at the differences in the maps, Oregon is not alone on this one.

Here’s where health equity comes in.  Health Equity has been defined as “…differences in health that are not only unnecessary and avoidable, but in addition unfair and unjust (Whitehead, 1992).”

So to bring it back to the maps, if you are born white in Oregon, you have a 20-25% chance of being obese and suffering from related health issues.  If you are born Black, you have over a 35% chance.  That seems definitely unnecessary, probably avoidable, and 100% unfair and unjust.

Let’s take a step back with the reasons for obesity.  If you’ve read any magazines/newspapers or watched any television you have probably heard the following mantra – a smart diet and exercise reduce your chances of obesity.  Simple enough and few people would say that a sensible diet and exercise is a bad idea.  I’m sure that most folks that are obese or overweight know this.  So then what’s the issue and why are there discrepancies between races?

We’ll get to the answer to this question in the next post. Until then, if you’d like to test your existing health equity statistics knowledge, maybe learn some shocking facts, and get some physical activity via finger clicking (pathetic, I know) take this little quiz on health equity.   

Next: What does transportation have to do with health equity?

Read the other parts of the series:

Transportation and Health Equity Part 1

Part II: Heath and Equity: What's the problem? 

Part IV: What makes us healthy?

Part V: Can transportation make you live longer?

Part VI: Your Neighborhood and Your Health

Part VII: Opportunities to Impact Health Equity



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