Face-palm of the Week: Boston University Study Says Black Women are Fat Because of Child Abuse

The well meaning researchers over at Boston University have been researching health issues pertaining to Black women’s bodies since the early 90s. Personally, I take issue with most research that specifically points out things regarding “more aggressive” forms of certain diseases without taking into consideration other social factors. According to BU’s Black Women’s Health Study website, they decided to begin their Black woman specific research for a number of reasons:

In the early 1990’s we knew that black women were more likely to develop many health problems, and to die of them, than white women. We also knew that most of the previous studies of women’s health had included only small numbers of black women or none at all. We felt that improving the health of black women required more knowledge of the causes of these health problems and also more knowledge about how women stayed healthy. More knowledge meant more research. We decided that we would do our best to take the lead in carrying out that research.

Recently, Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study has compiled research correlating obesity in Black women with childhood physical and sexual abuse. Yes, you read that right.

According to the above linked article, researchers used participants from the ongoing health studies dating back to 1985 and over 33,000 women responded. 58% of the respondents reported at least one incident of abuse in childhood and adolescence and 11% reported severe abuse.

While the report has yet to be published on BU’s BWHS website, the article on the research to me seems to be nothing more than shoddy generalizations. It would seem that the research may be pushing something more along the lines of:
physical/sexual abuse –> mental illness –> obesity

A major problem is that this has nothing to do with Black folks in particular. In fact, we know that race and ethnicity are trigger words in bad research in order to push certain agendas. Additionally, I’ve spent the better part of my career, working with victims and survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence.

The correlation seems to go as follows: the Black community is more likely to experience obesity as defined by Americanized (oft read: white) standards. This is a result of a number of things that we know and have identified: 1) access to real food – the ‘good’ grocery stores are on the ‘other’ side of town; 2) socioeconomic status – the good-for-you food is more expensive than junk-food, 3) education about food and nutrition, 3) traditional styles of cooking and eating behaviors, and a number of other reasons. We know that the world has been discussing Black women’s bodies for years.

We also know that Black women are sexually assaulted/abused at rates higher than in other communities. Studies indicate 60% of Black women are sexually assaulted before 18. Also, apparently, colored folks use corporal punishment in way higher percentages than non-colored folks; all though, I will say, most research on the matter pisses me off because it’s propaganda used to force Black folks away from spanking. (Yes, I know that spanking is not the same as “physical abuse” and no, I am not a proponent of spanking.)

Voila! Science.

Er..bunk science. In addition to this being simple, poor, over-generalized science, it’s just offensive and misleading. Further, taking into consideration the idea the most survivors of sexual abuse in the general population never speak out, and that often in the monolith known as the Black community there is the attitude that we’re all family and should protect each other and not speak out about such things…

Is there an accurate way to capture such a correlation, especially in comparison to survivors of other ethnicities?

I think it’s another “let’s focus on Black women’s bodies!” article. I’m gonna go on a limb and call bullshit on this one. Don’t believe the hype. However, if you want to view an interesting documentary on food and the issues surrounding obesity, you should check out HBO’s The Weight of the Nation for the free.

Interesting that this hit the headlines at a similar time as NPR’s tumblr linked a very overly general article in Clutch Mag on why some Black folks ignore negative research on spanking; again, not a fan of spanking but also not a fan of faulty correlations like: spanking –> mental illness in the Black community. The author, Kirsten West Savali, cites nationally recognized sources like the National Institutes of Health, but also sources that say violence is a function of poverty. Wild. No shade though.