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Dermatologic Barriers to Exercise in Black Women

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – About a third of black women cite complications of hair care as the reason they do not exercise or exercise less than they would like, according to Amy J. McMichael, M.D., the lead investigator of a study from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
McMichael, associate professor of dermatology, specializes in hair and scalp diseases, ethnic and pigmented skin diseases, and general dermatology and skin care. “I see a lot of African American women in our clinic and had noticed how many of them are overweight. This puts these women at risk for hypertension, diabetes and other serious problems.”
In fact studies show that 77 percent of black women are overweight or obese, McMichael said. “I thought it would be interesting to look at what role their hair plays in their amount of exercise. Many African American women with coarser hair use either heat straighteners or chemical products to straighten their hair. Depending on how coarse or fragile their hair is, they can’t just wash their hair after exercise without having to go through the whole process again, and that can take hours. Over-washing fragile hair can make it break off easily.”
McMichael and the team of investigators from the Department of Dermatology, the Division of Public Health Sciences, and the medical school interviewed 103 black women about how much and what types of exercise they do, and the time, expense and complications of caring for their hair. Sixty-four of the respondents had relaxed their hair by various means.
All of the respondents believed it was important for them to exercise. And 50 percent stated that they considered changing their hair to make it easier to exercise.
“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 ways to address this issue, get some African American women in a forum or group meeting and talk about this,” McMichael said. “This is just a first step.”
The study was presented recently at the Fourth International Symposium of the L’Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research by fourth-year medical student Shani Smith, MBA. Other investigators include Melicia Whitt-Glover, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Kismet Loftin-Bell, MALS, MSL, research associate, and medical student Rebecca Hall.

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Media Contacts: Ann Hopkins, ahopkins@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-1280, or Bonnie Davis, bdavis@wfubmc.edu, or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-4587.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. It is licensed to operate 1,154 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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