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Book Focuses on Culture, Food Choice and Obesity

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

In his book, “Food Choice and Obesity in Black America: Creating a New Cultural Diet,” (2006 Praeger, Westport, Conn.) Eric J. Bailey examines social and cultural issues of food and obesity in the black community.

Bailey, a professor of medical anthropology and public health at East Carolina University, said he was concerned that African Americans don’t often talk about weight matters, particularly when it comes to food and exercise.

ECU medical anthropology professor Eric Bailey’s new book links food choices and disease in the African American community.

“I know it’s a sensitive topic. You don’t want to affect cultural traditions because that’s what keeps us connected to our community,” he said. “But the result is diabetes, cancer, heart disease. We don’t realize how much chronic disease affects our community.”

The first section of Bailey’s book offers research findings that link obesity and chronic disease in the African American community. In the second section, he examines historical and socio-cultural health indicators, such as body image, food preferences and exercise habits in the black community. In the third section, Bailey offers a new approach for diet and lifestyle, focused on the cultural traditions of African Americans.

Many social traditions, he said, such as church and family gatherings, oftentimes involve fattening or unhealthy foods. Bailey believes many recipes could be altered. Sodium and fat can easily be reduced in food, he said. And he suggests many foods that are traditionally fried could be baked instead.

“People want to make recipes exactly the same way it was years ago,” Bailey said. “But you can use the same recipe your grandparents used and continue to keep that connection to them. You’re honoring them by making the same dish but in a healthier way.”

Bailey said he hopes his book will encourage black Americans to be proactive about their health.

“African Americans need to know they can be the ones to stop disease,” he said. “We can delay it and reduce our chances and improve our quality of life if we take an interest in our health now, versus later. It’s not going to come from doctors, or government programs. The key is to take charge of our own health and fitness.”

For more information visit http://www.newblackculturaldiet.com or email Bailey at baileye@ecu.edu.

8/2/10
This page originally appeared in the Sept. 1, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at http://www.ecu.edu/news/poe/Arch.cfm.