Black Universities Tell Students That Fat Isn’t ‘Phat’

Dionne Walker, AP, Oct. 24

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Nationwide, health experts agree the obesity epidemic is striking hardest among Hispanics and blacks, with waistlines—and rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke—expanding at alarming rates.

Predominantly black colleges like Norfolk State University are stepping in, rolling out veggie-heavy menus, building walking trails and even launching campuswide weight loss contests. Their aim: to curb the ballooning of black America by targeting the next generation.

“Our students are at a prime time in their lives where they can make choices that can prevent them from having these problems,” said Cynthia Burwell, head of Norfolk State’s internship programs and an organizer of the health effort.

Similar weight-loss initiatives have been started at five other historically black colleges: Talladega College in Alabama, Alcorn State University in Mississippi, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, South Carolina State University and Wiley College in Texas.

Their programs are supported through federal grants distributed by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. Later, the umbrella group will turn over data on student weight trends to the Health and Human Services Department minority health office for review.

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Blacks, especially women, are carrying many of the pounds: A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found as many as 70.6 percent of black women across various age groups qualified as overweight or obese between 1999 and 2002.

Although few of the participating black colleges keep hard data, Alcorn State human sciences chairman Ross Santell said it’s easy to see the weight problem on black campuses. “Many, many, many students are obese,” he said.

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In dining halls, monthly theme nights highlight new kinds of fruits and vegetables, while “PHAT stations” across campus let students check their blood pressure and heart rates.

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