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Many African American Women Avoid Exercise Due to Hair Care Issues

Update Date: Dec 18, 2012 07:51 AM EST

We all have a million reasons why we can't manage to work out or go for a little run. While in reality, mostly the reason is nothing but laziness, a new study suggests that for African-American women, the reason for not hitting the gym or working out their bodies is hair care and maintenance issues. It may sound a little difficult to relate, but apparently, in spite of obesity being a major health concern among African-American women, it is hair care that prevents a lot of women from exercising. According to reports from The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Minority Health, about four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese.

According to the study by researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, about one-third of African-American women report not exercising or exercising lesser than they would like due to hair care issues.

"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," Amy J. McMichael, M.D., the lead author 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."

McMichael specializes in hair and scalp diseases, ethnic and pigmented skin diseases, as well as general dermatology and skin care.

The study involved 103 African-American women aged between 21 to 60. The participants were asked to answer a questionnaire containing 40 questions pertaining to their physical activity, hair care and maintenance, hair and scalp concerns.

The analysis of the data revealed that even though all the participants understood that exercising was important for them, 40 percent respondents reported avoiding exercise at times due to hair-related issues.

About half of the participants reported modifying their hairstyle to accommodate exercise. Many African-American women have coarser hair and use either heat hair straighteners or chemical products to straighten their hair. This process is not only time-consuming, but also makes hair very fragile, making it difficult for them to wash it after exercise, McMichael said.

"Overwashing fragile hair can make it break off easily," McMichael said.

"We have now identified the problem - hair care does seem to be a factor - and it is one that is not easily solvable. 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," McMichael said.

The study was published online Dec. 18 by Archives of Dermatology, a JAMA network publication.

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