As It Turns Out, Baby Actually Does Got Back

Since the election, there’s been a lot of discussion about how America is becoming a post-racial society.   And really what could be better than treating people equally regardless of skin color and appearance?  Still – being equal doesn’t mean being identical.  There is plenty of variation between all of us derived from differences encoded in our DNA, and there is plenty of research going on to understand variability within racial subtypes.
In the early 1990s, the cultural anthropologist known as Sir Mix-A-Lot in his seminal work “Baby Got Back” brought to light the observation that there was among certain African American women a tendency for adiposity in the upper thighs and buttocks.

And it turns out, Mix-A-Lot was correct in his observation.  In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers from the Children’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh have found that in a study following pre- and post-adolescents (both white and black) that more black adolescent girls were overweight (25 to 15%) than their white counterparts and their Resting Metabolic Rate and degree of fat oxidation were significantly lower as well.  This was not true for boys and could not be accounted for by dietary and original weight/fat levels, suggesting that there is a genetic component that predisposes young black women to deposit (and/or not metabolize) fat.

More than making a humorous connection, this spells real trouble for this segment of the population as we learn the cost (both individual and societal) of skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes.  The authors refer to the “obesogenic” environment that is Western society.  Literally, our high calorie, high fat, low exercise lifestyle is killing us (albeit slowly and comfortably) – and here’s one part of the population that has some cards stacked against them to start.

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18 thoughts on “As It Turns Out, Baby Actually Does Got Back

  1. Wouldn't the diabetes and obesity of mothers genetically stack the odds against male children as well as females. Even though the males are not genetically predisposed to such a condition naturally, one parent suffering from the condition would seem to increase risk. Culturally, it also seems that this body type is more acceptable/desirable amongst blacks as opposed to whites. Would this influence the number of children born amongst, and therefore spreading, this lower metabolizing rate and oxidation.
    I wonder over what time period this study was done. A male in his twenties is much less active than a teenager and the level of activity in youths would manipulate the oxidation and metabolizing factor, I wonder if activity level was accounted for.
    I have way to many questions, sorry.

  2. could it be that only "excessive" fat is a health problem? if for a group of people an amount and placement of fat deposit is normal, perhaps their body system is appropriately balanced to handle it? i have to think there must be another associated characteristic that make women with back desirable mates or natural selection would not have propagated the trait. off to dreamland.

  3. From a cultural anthropology standpoint (actually what I majored in – not the most lucrative profession, lol)… there are at least some good cards stacked in their favor also. African-American girls are way less likely to have self-esteem issues leading to anorexia. (Sorry, I don't have the actual number for "way less"). It seems as though science (genetic pre-disposition to store fat) and culture (fat being more culturally acceptable and considered beautiful a la Sir MixaLot) reinforce each other… although that's a grand oversimplification. Hm, I wonder if someone's written that paper….

  4. Budd — there is also a trend in boys as well — it's just not as pronounced in that observed from girls (this study was carried out in children and adolescents aged 8 – 16). There are lots of things that are differentially regulated between males and females (especially during puberty where the biggest effects are seen…).

  5. Dave — actually depositing excess fat can actually be a good thing. Bad things (diabetes wise) really start happening when you have fat build up and out race your ability to deposit fat. When that happens, fat gets deposited places it shouldn't — your muscles and your liver for example — and that's really bad.

  6. i just read another post who had a link to salon's article about michella obama's junk in the trunk. hehehe. different point to the post, but still. sir mix-a-lot came up. hehehe. ;P great minds, i guess. :D

  7. does this study take into account heritage, not just race? here's an interesting hypothesis. someone's family hails from an area in africa where exercise (transportation, even) is a necessity of life and food is scarce, or completely based on different foods available in the US. (think ethiopian food, for example.) their genes have been bred for living in that sort of environment, so perhaps one trait is the storage or low-burn of fats in order to keep the body functioning. now take that genetic makeup, and put it into a society that's full of new and different foods – both 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' – with a different climate and social makeup. i would think that the body would not adapt well to the change in diet and exercise, and would then be "predispositioned" to easily become obese.are there studies on this? i actually find this kind of research really interesting – they feed my once science-oriented brain.

  8. I know they have done studies on pregnant women's diets and how they affect the metabolic rate of the child. Women eating very nutritious foods on a regular schedule tend to have children with faster metabolisms than women who eat less regularly and less nutritious foods tend to have children with slower metabolic rates.
    great study here

  9. Thanks Steph — yes, I do enjoy teaching — and very nearly accepted a job as a university professor (back in the day)… but I decided I wanted to try and help treat disease more than teach.

  10. e*c — most likely this study just used the local (Pittsburgh) population. There has however, been a lot of fascinating studies on ethnic populations and the amazingly high incidence of Type-2 diabetes.

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