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Oh, hair no! Locks deter women's exercise
Study: Maintenance concerns limit workouts
 
Published Thursday, December 20, 2012 8:11 am
by Herbert L. White

Researchers have linked hair care maintenance as a deterrent to exercise among black women, a group that has the highest rates of  obesity in the country.

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Amy McMichael M.D.


Research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that about a third of African-American women cite complications of hair care as the reason they don’t exercise or exercise less, according to Amy J. McMichael, M.D., the lead author of the study published online today by Archives of Dermatology.


McMichael, a professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist, became interested in the tie between hair care and weight issues because of the patients she was seeing consistently. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports that about four out of five black women are overweight or obese.


“I treat a lot of African American women in our clinic and had noticed how many of them are overweight, and I wanted to know why,” McMichael said. “I’m treating them for dermatology-related issues, but as a doctor this was even more concerning because excess weight puts these women at risk for hypertension, diabetes and other serious problems.”


Researchers asked 103 African-American women ranging from age 21 to 60 – with a mean average of 42.3 years – to fill out a 40-question survey on physical activity, hair care and maintenance, and hair and scalp concerns. The questions included: how much and what types of exercise they do, and the time, expense and complications of hair care. Every respondents believed it was important to exercise but 40 percent reported avoiding workouts because of hair-related issues. Half said they modified their hairstyle to accommodate exercise.


Because many black women with coarse hair use time-consuming heat appliances or chemicals to straighten their hair, washing their locks after exercise isn’t an easy option, McMichael said.


“Overwashing fragile hair can make it break off easily,” she said.


McMichael and her colleagues presented early findings in a 2007 poster presentation at the annual International Symposium of the L’Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research.


“We have now identified the problem – hair care does seem to be a factor – and it is one that is not easily solvable,” McMichael said. “Somebody might say, ‘Oh, just cut your hair,’ but that does not make sense. We have to figure out better ways to address this issue.”

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