Tori Thompson
May 17, 2019

Congrats to Tori Thompson who has successfully defended her thesis.  Tori will begin her Doctoral Program in the fall with Dr. Jette.

Title: "THAT CHART AIN’T FOR US”: AN EXAMINATION OF BLACK WOMEN’S UNDERSTANDINGS OF BMI, HEALTH, AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Abstract:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines obesity as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 (CDC, 2017). The BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters, and is use to classify individuals as “under” weight (below 18.5), “normal” or “healthy” weight (18.5-24.9), “overweight” (25.0-29.9), or “obese” (30.0 and above) (CDC, 2017). Though the BMI is presently the most commonly used measurement of “fatness” in clinical research and medical practice (Gutham, 2014), scholars have questioned its accuracy as a measure of fatness and future health risk given that it does not take into account how bone density, muscularity, age, or ethnicity can impact scores (Gard and Wright, 2005; Herndon, 2005; Lupton, 2012). In addition to BMI’s limitations, scholars are also critical of how those who fall outside the ‘normal’ BMI category are marked as ‘abnormal’ which may lead to social stigmatization (Campos et al., 2005; Evans and Colls, 2009; Saguy and Riley, 2005). Given that BMI’s ‘normal’ category is an ideal based on white male bodies (Cryle and Stephens, 2017), a central focus of this project is the implications of the BMI on black bodies who do not measure up to the ‘ideal’.

Significantly, black women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the United States, with 60% being classified as obese per the BMI (CDC, 2017). However, there is currently a lack of scholarship which examines black women’s perceptions of the BMI, and how/if those perceptions influence their attitudes toward health and physical activity. In this project, I take a Foucauldian approach to analyze data collected from eight semi-structured interviews with black women who self- identify as obese and who are physically active. Findings suggest that black women find the BMI to be irrelevant to their health and well-being, and do not attribute their engagement in physical activity to their BMI. Instead, their reasons for partaking in physical activity are due to their individual experiences understandings of health and black female identity. These results have the potential to inform healthcare policies, physician practice, and public health interventions that target communities of color.