Black Americans are among the least-healthy population group in the country, with the highest rates of obesity and diabetes, according to a new market report by research firm Mintel.
But a majority of blacks do not perceive themselves to be overweight or unhealthy, and they also do not believe there is anything wrong with their diets.
In a survey Mintel conducted for its report Black Diet and Wellness — US, 33 per cent of black women and 18 per cent of black men considered themselves to be overweight. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, however, 80 per cent of black women and 72 per cent of black men were either overweight or obese, as of 2006.
In the same survey, 72 per cent of black women and 74 per cent of black men said they consider their diet to be either "somewhat healthy" or "healthy."
"This belief is astonishing considering the fact that the majority of health concerns including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, to some extent, are directly related to a poor diet, and that African Americans suffer and die from these conditions at a higher rate than any other ethnic or racial group," said Leylha Ahuile, senior analyst of multicultural reports for Mintel. "It is also highly unlikely that such a large percentage of black people became overweight by eating a 'healthy' or even 'somewhat healthy' diet."
This gap between perception and reality is a key finding that anyone marketing products to the black community should keep in mind, the researchers advise.
"This indicates that African Americans would benefit from understanding what truly constitutes a healthy diet and how to incorporate more healthy choices into their own lives," the report stated. "It is unlikely that anyone who is unable to recognize the fact that they, or their children, are overweight or obese will respond to messages about the dangers because they won’t believe the message applies to them.
"Savvy marketers that can help black men and women realize that obesity itself is a health problem while offering weight loss solutions will ultimately be recognized as leaders in the fight. These marketers stand to gain loyalty among African Americans in general but especially among those who benefit directly from obesity awareness," the report states.
What kinds of healthier foods are most likely to be successful in this population group?
Blacks are more likely than whites to purchase organic foods, but they appear to have little belief (or, perhaps, less awareness) in the potential benefits of dietary supplements. In addition, they are slightly less likely than whites to purchase 'reduced' foods, such as those that tout lower fat. There might also be potential for vegetarian products.
Among the report highlights:
- A study conducted in 2006 by the Hartman Group found that blacks are more likely to purchase organic foods than whites, when organic is an option. (See Figure 1)
- Black respondents are slightly less likely to purchase low-in foods. Because they tend to prefer home-cooked foods, they may be more responsive to information about healthier ways to prepare the food that they prefer rather than switch to packaged foods.
- When asked the question 'What contributes to healthy living?' both black men and women surveyed ranked the taking of herbal supplements or nontraditional medications lowest on the list of factors. Only 40 per cent of those surveyed believed it was a contributing factor at all. It was also the lowest-rated factor in all age groups and in all income categories. (See Figure 2)
- Rather than abandon their favourite foods, many blacks are learning to create healthier versions of traditional dishes, substituting smoked turkey products for smoked pork or bacon, for example. Many blacks have eliminated red meat from their diet or are switching to a vegetarian diet altogether in the interest of health. The popularity of Chicago’s Soul Vegetarian restaurant is a reflection of these changes.