Disparities in obesity perception between African American and Arab American cultural groups contribute to differences in health status.

McClelland, Molly, and Carmon Weekes

Problem.  Effectiveness of health education programs and interventions, designed to improve obesity rates, may vary according to perceptions of health within cultural groups. In order to create effective interventions, nurses and nurse leaders should better understand disparities in health perception between cultural groups.

Method.  A qualitative approach was used to study and compare perceptions of health and obesity. Fifty participants from two minority cultural groups (Arab-American and African-American) living in the same county were studied in 2014 in order to compare perceptions of health, nutrition, and obesity and subsequent health behaviors. 

Key Findings. Control, Expectations, Bias, Acceptance and Access were the five themes identified.  Arab Americans had lower weights, lower prevalence of chronic diseases, expected healthy weights, reported age and gender bias related to being overweight, were not as accepting of being overweight and did not report difficulties in accessing healthy food choices compared to their African American counterparts. African American participants reported being overweight as a sign of beauty and wealth.   

Results & Conclusions.  Health interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates and related chronic diseases should be culturally specific and aimed at changing expected and accepted cultural norms.  Expected outcomes may not be achieved when patient and nurse goals are different.  For example, a nurse goal to help patients lose weight in order to improve health may not be achieved if the patient perceives being thin as unattractive, less desirable or a sign of being poor.  Nurse leaders are in unique positions to design culture-sensitive programs and interventions aimed at improving population and community health for all ethnic groups.