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Pandemic makes obvious another great health threat to African Americans: obesity

We don’t want to talk about it, but COVID has put the overweight and obese, particularly Black people, at much higher risk.

For too many Black folks, Laura Washington writes, being overweight has become the norm, commonplace and acceptable.
AP Photos

As COVID-19 descended on us last March, the Fat Nag watched with dread and hope.

Dread, knowing this 21st century plague would hit Black folks hardest. When it comes to health disparities, we always weigh in on the wrong side of the scale.

And as the Fat Nag always reminds, there is another plague that affects us most — our everlasting battle with obesity.

I harbored hope, however, the pandemic would usher in a new awareness that the fat is killing us.

For years, as the self-proclaimed Fat Nag, I have been reminding, railing and begging Black folks to get the fat out.

Obesity impacts every demographic in the nation, notes a recent Chicago Sun-Times report, but hits us hardest. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40% of Blacks, 30% of whites and 34% of Hispanics are considered obese.

And obesity can be a perilous underlying condition that makes other medical problems worse.

“Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Brett Chase of the Sun-Times writes. “Having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection.”

Chicago already was an extremely dangerous place for Black folks. We lived with a triple threat of racism, violence and poverty. Then came the pandemic. Now, while Blacks make up about 23% of the county population, they account for 38% of COVID deaths, with obesity as a contributing factor.

We don’t want to talk about it, but COVID has put the overweight and obese, particularly Black people, at much higher risk. For generations, we have died from and been disabled by ailments in which obesity is a major contributing factor: heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer and more. Now COVID-19 is taking even more of us to the grave.

Local Black clergy and others are responding to the obesity crisis with new outreach and education programs.

The Nag applauds those efforts, but they’re really nothing new. Oprah Winfrey has personally tried and promoted, it seems, every diet known to woman and man. As first lady, Michelle Obama made her fight to end childhood obesity, through her “Let’s Move” initiative, the centerpiece of her White House agenda.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle championed a tax on soda drinks, wanting to target unhealthy sugar consumption, and all it earned her was the voters’ ire and public ridicule.

We get fatter.

For too many Black folks, being overweight has become the norm, commonplace and acceptable. Fat is embedded in our cultural fabric. We claim our food preferences — fried, greased and sugar-infested — are rooted in our heritage.

We are comfortably ensconced in fat-denial. We trade in excuses and euphemisms. We believe being heavy is “beautiful” because it is more convenient to believe that.

We are not obese, we say. We are “big-boned.” We are “genetically disposed.” We are “made that way.”

A respected physician once told me that, when seeing an obese patient, he rarely directly discusses the patient’s weight. If he does, he knows, he may never see that patient again.

Obesity continues to kill.

The arrival of life-saving vaccines may save us from COVID-19. How about a vaccine that will save us from ourselves?

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.