This fourth segment, focusing on obesity, is part of an eight-part series on health disparities in the Pittsburgh region. These articles are the result of a collaboration among the New Pittsburgh Courier, Community PARTners (a core service of the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute—CTSI) and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Pitt School of Medicine assistant professor Michael Yonas, DrPH, sat down with Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League, to discuss this month’s focus on obesity among African Americans in Allegheny County.


MY: From working together, I know that the issue of increasing rates of disparities in obesity and health of African Americans is so important to you. Can you share with me why?

EB: For many many years I have been deeply concerned about the issue of obesity and its impact on the health and wellness of African Americans, especially our children! As we look at Figure 1 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows the differences in obesity for men and women by race, these differences are astonishing. The rates of obesity for ALL groups of people are unbelievable. As highlighted in the interview with Dr. Arslanian, the rates of obesity continue to rise for a number of reasons, including the decisions that people make—what to drink (water or skim milk instead of soda!) or eat, and whether or not to exercise.

This is only part of the reason, though. WHERE you live also makes a big difference. As we have seen in the previous segments on disparities in child and adolescent health and diabetes, the disparities that persist are not solely due to personal choices that people make, but also have so much to do with the communities in which people live, the resources that are accessible and the cultural factors influencing people’s behavior. Obesity, like other chronic diseases, is a public health issue that requires an understanding of the individual, family- and community-level factors and the use of a public health approach to address factors at each of these levels. We want people to take charge of their health. Be informed. Be involved. With increasing budget cuts in social services and community programs that serve many of our most needy communities, this is also a time that we need to be involved TOGETHER!

MY: What role can research play in decreasing the burden of health disparities?

EB: Participating in research is one way that we can be involved in taking charge of our health. Right now, there are studies going on at Pitt that are specifically seeking African Americans’ participation. Without us, the results of these studies will not be as useful to African Americans. I have participated in several research studies that were of interest to me personally. I learned new things about my health that I might not have otherwise known. My participation also helps other people when the study is able to share its findings. Some people wait until a loved one or they, themselves, become sick before they consider participating in research. Any participation by African Americans is a positive step, but I urge people to consider participating right now. If you are interested in participating in research, please contact Community PARTners at 1-866-422-1575. They can provide the information you need to make an informed decision about whether participating in research is right for you.

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