C o m m u n i t y H e a l t h I m p r o v e m e n t

C o l l a b o r a t i v e

Obesity and Health Behaviors

Approximately half of all causes of mortality in the United States are linked to social and behavioral factors. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and other medical conditions such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, some forms of cancer, and musculoskeletal problems. The poor and ethnic minorities are at increased risk for obesity. Poor women are 1.4-1.6 times more likely to be overweight than are middle and high-income women. The prevalence of abdominal obesity, which is most associated with health risk, is 43% in white women, 56% in Black women and 55% in Latinas. Abdominal obesity accounts for over 10% of the ethnic differences in risk of diabetes between Black or Latina and white women. Interventions to increase exercise and promote healthy diet can decrease the incidence of diabetes in a high-risk group by as much 58%. But individually-focused programs of behavior change are often proven ineffective. The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Research Group (1982) attempted to change health behaviors in a high-risk group by applying the best techniques available, yet results were disappointing. Even when interventions are effective, relapse is common. Interventions that incorporate change at community or policy levels may be more effective. Yet community campaigns may be more successful in changing health risk behaviors among persons with higher socioeconomic status, increasing disparities. Interventions that address underlying community problems and attend to local cultural may be appropriate for and effective in low income, minority groups.

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