The influence of cultural beliefs and attitudes on the perceptions of health, body size, and health behaviors among over-weight and obese African American women
African American women experience extremely high rates of health disparities related to major chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, in addition to high rates of premature mortality. These problems have been directly linked to the extremely high prevalence of overweight and obesity, approximately (80%), decreased physical activity, and a diet high calories and fat in this group. Health care professionals have little success in assisting African American women change or modify health behaviors that result in weight loss and maintenance. Culture plays an integral role in the day-to-day lives of African American women, which influences all aspects of their existence. Little is known about the unique life experiences of African American women related to culture and how those experiences influence their ability to initiate and maintain lifestyle changes.
A phenomenological study was conducted to describe the experiences of eight overweight and obese African American women over four life stages from childhood to middle adulthood. Data was obtained through a one-hour, audiotaped, face to face interview. Data analysis was completed using Giorgi's approach, which was originated by Husserl (1859-1938). Four categories of themes emerged from the data with a total of eleven themes. Food, as an integral part of life, the universal theme category, was found to be most salient theme that ran across the three categories under study and throughout the life stages of the women. Perception of health yielded three themes. Two themes emerged under body size. Five themes were found to describe perception of health behaviors.
Leininger's Culture Care Theory was used to guide the study. Several theoretical assumptions were supported. Study findings can be useful in hypothesis testing and development, creation of teaching strategies for clients and health care professionals, and in illuminating the unique life experiences of this high-risk group. Research implications and recommendations are addressed.