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The Voice of the Black Community


Double trouble for your health: Obesity and poor sleep habits
Black Americans particularly vulnerable
Published Sunday, February 16, 2020 2:00 pm
by Jason Wooden PhD

Restful and sufficient sleep habits helps lower the risk of obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

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Have you recovered from the Christmas holiday yet?

You know, all the great food and extra pounds you put on.

This is the time of the year when we’re still serious about our New Year’s resolutions.  Based on past surveys, dieting, exercising, and weight loss are among the top resolutions made each year.

They should be at the top of the list for most people.  We’re dealing with a major public health crisis.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 93 million U.S. adults are obese (a body mass index of 30 or higher.)  You’ll find some of the highest amounts of obesity in the Midwest and the South.

And it continues to worsen despite the huge downsides: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and various other serious health issues.

Did you know that 87% of adults with diabetes are overweight?  Obesity is also one of the biggest risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder which can be life changing by itself.

Obesity worse among African Americans
In the U.S. adult population, African Americans along with Hispanics have the highest prevalence of obesity.

Among African American adults age 20 and older, more than a third of men and over half of women are obese.  African American adolescents have the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity among girls.

The reasons behind the obesity epidemic in the U.S. include physical inactivity, overeating, and a diet high in simple carbs.  Genetics can also play a role as you’re more likely to become obese if a parent is obese.

So, why is the situation so much worse for African Americans?

Social issues come into play.  Depending on where you live or your financial situation, you may be unable to access healthy foods.  You may also have poor access to places for physical activity.

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Psychological factors are important too since many people eat in response to sadness, depression, stress, and anger.  And let’s not forget that African American women tend to gain weight earlier in life than many other ethnic groups.

Obesity risk may be even higher because of the black-white sleep gap
One in three Americans are sleep deprived. However, if you’re African American, you’re more likely to sleep poorly.

This black-white sleep gap, highlighted as early as 2007, has since been confirmed in multiple research studies. According to the CDC, 45% of African Americans get less than seven hours of sleep compared to 33% of whites and Hispanics.

This means they’re more at risk for other serious conditions associated with poor sleep – high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, and obesity.
A growing body of research has shown a link between how much we sleep and the risk for obesity.  People who get too little sleep tend gain more weight than those who get quality sleep.

Why this happens is not completely understood, but experts believe sleep-deprived people may be too tired to exercise or have more opportunities to eat.  Poor sleep is also thought to affect the balance of hormones that control appetite.

Making matters worse is the high prevalence of undiagnosed sleep apnea among African American adults. It’s a common sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops during the night.  

Sleep apnea is a real sleep killer because it keeps you out of deep restorative sleep.  Sleep apnea snoring can wreck the sleep of a spouse.

Nonetheless, the black-white sleep gap means African Americans are at even greater risk for weight gain, especially considering other risk factors.

So, what can I do?
OK, it’s not all doom and gloom.  This is simply a call for everyone to take things more seriously.

There’s plenty you can do to improve your sleep and get to a healthier weight.
And you can start today.

Start with sleep hygiene, the everyday things you during the day and at night that can set the stage for a great night of Zs:

* Keep regular wake up and sleep times

* Avoid naps

* Exercise during the day

* Avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime

* Maintain a bedtime routine to wind down

* Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool

Also, make an appointment with a sleep specialist - you may be walking around with undiagnosed sleep apnea or some other sleep disorder.

You should also start paying more attention to what you eat, get more physically active, and go in for a checkup.

There’re plenty of dieting and exercise plans to choose from.  The important thing is to get started even if it’s simple changes such as adding more veggies to your plate and working in an evening walk.  

Be sure to check with your doctor that you’re doing things the right way, especially if you’re really out of shape.

It’s not too late and well worth it.  Research has shown that losing just 5 to 7 percent of your body weight and doing moderately intense exercise (like brisk walking) may prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Where to learn more:

Jason Wooden, a founder of BetterSleepSimplified.com, has worked for over 20 years in biomedical research and healthcare technology research and development.


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Posted on March 18, 2020
What an inspiring story. This shows the risks of undiagnosed sleep apnea. Good to hear your husband is doing so much better.
-Jason Wooden, PhD
Posted on February 23, 2020
My active husband with excellent diet was hospitalized two years ago for what ended up being congestive heart failure, and an echocardiogram showed a 20% left ventricle ejection fraction, far below the normal range. To make a long story short, he had a sleep study showing moderate sleep apnea. After using CPAP for a few months, the echo showed LVEF between 35% and 40%. One year after that, the ejection fraction is in the normal range--55% to 60%. He is now off his diuretic and symptom-free. He was not overweight.
Posted on February 17, 2020

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