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Shape-Up Sister

Obesity is major health concern for the general population in the UK, but recent surveys have shown that black women in the UK are at a greater risk of being overweight or obese compared to their white counterparts. Not surprisingly, the prevalence of chronic conditions such as non-insulin dependent diabetes and cardio-vascular disease is significantly higher in this population.

It is unclear why black women have such an increased risk of being overweight/ obese. Some scientists argue genetic causes could explain the ethnic variation in weight, while others believe that there are differences in diet and physical activity. Qualitative investigation by this research group suggests that black women have a more favourable attitude to being overweight. As such, cultural factors may also contribute to weight differences. Whatever the cause, it is clear that black women in the UK are particularly at risk of developing weight related health problems and research is needed to gain a better understanding of these issues.

In the USA, culturally-based interventions have been shown to promote healthy behaviours such as increasing exercise adherence in African-Americans, and culturally-adapted weight loss interventions have been successful in promoting weight loss in African-American women. However in the UK access to obesity services specifically designed to meet the needs of African-Caribbean women is limited.

Recent surveys show that an increasing percentage of the British population have access to the internet either at home or at work. The internet is a popular method of accessing information about health. It is thought that the internet can be an effective method for delivering weight loss programmes. This is highlighted by the large number of commercial online weight loss programmes.

Shape-Up Sister is an internet-based online healthy lifestyle programme for black women. It has been developed over the course of a three year project, working with African and Caribbean groups to culturally tailor an existing weight management programme. Shape-Up Sister aims to help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers by promoting weight loss, healthy eating and physical activity. It is a behavioural approach to managing eating and physical activity that gives women the skills and knowledge to live a healthy lifestyle for a lifetime. Shape-Up Sister includes culturally appropriate language and images, and uses food examples and cooking techniques that are relevant to this population.

At present, Shape-Up Sister is being evaluated in a research study involving 192 black British women. Overweight women were recruited between 2008-2009, via London workplaces. All participants were given access to the website, sent weekly email newsletters, and were invited to three-monthly support group meetings over the course of a year. Baseline measures included anthropometry, physical activity, biological markers and psychosocial variables. Measures were repeated at 3 months, 6 month and 12 months and data collection has now been completed. Preliminary results suggest high participant satisfaction with the programme and significant improvements in waist size, eating behaviours and measures of health-related quality of life. It is hoped that feedback from the study participants can be used to further enhance and develop culturally tailored weight management programmes such as Shape Up Sister. It will also provide a database of information relating to the physical and psychosocial health of overweight black women in the UK.

This study is a joint project by the Psychobiology Group, Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre (directed by Professor Jane Wardle at UCL) and Weight Concern. It is funded by a grant from the National Prevention Research Initiative to Professor Andrew Steptoe. Staff members currently and previously involved include: Charlene Shoneye, Jessica Walker, Bev Murray and Kate Evans.

Page last modified on 20 may 10 13:13