Healthier Harlem Workbook for Women Takes Aim at Obesity

Identifying determinants of nutrition and physical activity among overweight minority women

In 2005, Erica G. Phillips-Caesar, MD, MS, and a team of researchers at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University conducted focus groups with African-American and Hispanic women in the East and Central Harlem neighborhoods of New York City. The purpose was to find out what got in the way of their eating healthy foods and increasing their physical activity.

Key Findings

  • The focus groups identified four principal causes of obesity: genetic predisposition; aging; eating habits developed during childhood that are difficult to break; food insecurity.

  • The focus groups were split on their understanding of "physical activity" versus "exercise."

  • The focus groups identified four main components of a healthy diet: Portion size; food preparation; types of food; timing of eating.

  • The focus groups identified four barriers to healthy nutrition and physical activity: Costs; lack of accessibility to healthy food options; lack of willpower; time constraints.

  • The researchers found that data collected on the weight of focus group participants came close to what participants thought their weight was.

Key Results

  • Using the women's input, the researchers created Eating Well and Exercising for a Healthier Harlem, a workbook to help overweight and obese women make lifestyle changes to improve their health.

    The study and workbook are the first phase of a larger-scale program to reduce the serious health consequences of overweight and obesity among minority women living in these New York neighborhoods.