mber 26, 2000
Rampant Obesity, a Debilitating Reality for
the Urban Poor
By DAVID BARBOZA
Clara Holloway's boys do not go to school anymore. Instead, they often sit at home,
eating and watching television in a darkened apartment here on the South Side.
They are not in school because of health problems, and because their mother does not
want them on the streets of a neighborhood that local church leaders are still trying to
take back from the gangs and drug dealers.
So on a typical Monday morning, Jeffrey, 15, can be found in the living room, slumped in
a big easy chair, watching the Cartoon Network while Robert, 17, is sprawled across his
bed, drifting in and out of sleep.
The boys are also coping with obesity, which is spreading all over the country, but
particularly, some say, among the blacks and Hispanics who are part of America's urban
poor. Nutritionists say part of the problem is a lack of knowledge of nutrition and little
access to stores with healthier foods.
''There's no question that study after study shows that minorities have poorer diets from a
nutritional point of view,'' said Dr. P. Peter Basiotis, an economist and the director of
nutrition policy and analysis at the federal Department of Agriculture. Many, he added,
are also ''less physically active,'' creating more problems.
Obesity is a growing problem among all groups in the United States. But according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 percent of blacks and about 21 percent of
Hispanics of all ages are considered obese, or about 30 percent overweight, compared
with just 17 percent for whites. That means that 26 million blacks and Hispanics in the
country are obese, and as a result, at risk for serious health problems. And lower income
minorities are at even greater risk, according to federal statistics.
The Holloway boys, who are black, are part of that equation. As a result of a pattern of
eating high-calorie foods while getting little or no exercise, Robert and Jeffrey weigh 415
pounds and 280 pounds, respectively, far above the optimal weight for their 5-foot-9 and
Robert is diabetic and spent several months in the hospital before dropping out of high
school last year.