By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™
According to the National Centers for Health Statistics, in 2010 roughly 42% of Latinas are overweight by at least 30 pounds qualifying them to be considered obese. Mujeres–we’ve got curves!
Beyond Latinas, those extra pounds represent the number one public health issue for all Americans because it adds enormous costs to our public health system and impacts the quality of life for many. If that’s not enough of a challenge, now being overweight can impact your overall career potential, too.
In a recent study, researcher Dr. Kerry O’Brien from the University of Manchester, obese women in particular face the potential of reduced salary, fewer leadership opportunities, and less likelihood of being hired.
At the heart of the bias was a sense that obese individuals deserve fewer privileges and opportunities than normal weight individuals. Other researchers have found obese workers are assumed to lack self-discipline, enthusiasm or energy.
Like all bias, the prejudice against obese individuals distorts one attribute about an individual in a negative way —yet these traits can exist among individuals of all shapes and sizes.
Employers are so concerned with health care costs associated with “life-style choices” that work place programs now exist to help employees quit smoking, lose weight, and to help reduce their stress. In some workplaces, employees also get an incentive to attend these programs through bonuses or other incentives.
So if your scale is nudging too far upwards, should you worry? Yes — but not because of your employer. It’s because you need to care about your health.
Unfortunately, being overweight in the Latino community is not always seen as a source of concern and frequently there are real challenges even if there is a desire to lose the weight — Latinos often live in what are being called “food deserts” — neighborhoods where there are no fresh groceries sold.
They also may hesitate to walk or jog outdoors for safety reasons. But there is one more factor that may be hurting our sense of urgency on weight loss: our own assumptions.
Surprisingly, Mexican Americans born here in the US and immigrants who have lived in the US for some period of time have a greater chance that we are overweight than Mexicanos — the so-called “healthy immigrant” effect thought to be the result of a cluster of lifestyle habits and assumptions.
Abbey B. Berenson, a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch also reports in her 2010 study that overweight Latinas and African American women did not see themselves as obese and equally important they were comfortable with their body image.
One possible explanation is that we grow up with values of accepting people for who they are and do not see overweight individuals being singled out. It can start young when overweight children are thought of as healthy and thriving — está llena de vida, she’s full of life.
Even if you are happy in your own skin and love the curves that come with being a plus-size, Latinas cannot ignore the health risks involved with an extra 30 pounds on your body. The risk of developing diabetes and heart disease cannot be ignored.
Sadly, the bias about race, gender, and body image will never be eliminated completely. So the real focus on obesity rests on your health and living a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.
Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.