Hair practices may be barrier to physical activity for some African-American women

Posted By News On December 17, 2012 - 9:30pm

CHICAGO โ€“ A study that surveyed 103 African-American women suggests that nearly 40 percent of the women reported avoiding exercise at times because of their hair, according to a report published Online First by Archives of Dermatology, a JAMA Network publication.

Regular physical activity (PA) is associated with a decreased risk for obesity, but African-American women have been among the least likely to meet some of the targeted PA goals. Sufficient physical activity has been defined as moderate-intensity aerobic PA for at least 150 minutes per week or vigorous-intensity aerobic PA for at least 75 minutes per week. Hair care and hairstyle maintenance can be costly for African-American women and because of the relative infrequency of hair washing needed to maintain many common hairstyles they may opt to avoid exercise and the associated sweating, according to the study background.

Rebecca R. Hall, M.D., of the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues surveyed African-American women about their hair care practices and PA to characterize the relationship of hairstyle maintenance with exercise. The average age of the 103 women surveyed was about 42 years.

"Hair maintenance in African-American women in this study limited their participation in PA with more than half of the women exercising less than 75 minutes/week and 26.2 percent reporting 0 minutes of exercise per week," the authors note.

Most of the women (62.1 percent) wore their hair in a relaxed (chemically straightened) style and most of the women washed their hair every one to two weeks (81.6 percent).

Hair concerns caused 35.9 percent of the women surveyed to avoid swimming and water activities, while 29.1 percent avoided aerobic and gym activities. Women with normal scalps (not dry or oily) were significantly more like to participate in aerobic/gym activities than those with scalp complaints. Women who exercised less because of hair concerns were 2.9 times less likely to exercise more than 150 minutes per week, according to study results.

"Effective strategies to promote PA in African-American women, known to disproportionately have obesity and associated sedentary diseases, must include addressing dermatologic barriers to PA with strategies that address hairstyle maintenance. The high percentage of African-American women with baseline scalp complaints suggests that dermatologists need to consider these symptoms when providing care for African-American women," the authors conclude.

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