The main reason why many African American women avoid exercise is because of hair care and maintenance, according to a study published in JAMA.

The research, led by Amy J. McMichael, M.D., found that complications of hair care is the main reason why African-American women don’t exercise as much as they’d like to.

McMichael specializes in and teaches dermatology at Wake Forest University. She noticed that many of her female African American patients were overweight and she wanted to understand the reason why. About four out of every five African American women are overweight or obese according to data released by The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health.

She said:

“I treat a lot of African American women in our clinic and had noticed how many of them are overweight, and I wanted to know why,” she said. “I’m treating them for dermatology related issues, but as a doctor this was even more concerning because excess weight puts these women at risk for hypertension, diabetes and other serious problems.”

A total of 103 African American women aged 21 to 60 participated in the study. They were each given a questionnaire asking them about their physical activity and hair care maintenance. It asked what specific exercises the women did and how much time and money they spent styling their hair. They all understood the importance of exercise, however nearly 40 percent said that they didn’t exercise due to the fact that it causes them to have issues with their hair.

A lot of African American women use chemical products or heat straighteners to straighten their hair and as a result their hair becomes very fragile. If you overwash fragile hair there is a chance that it will break off easily, this is why a lot of the women can’t easily wash their hair after exercise and avoid it all together.

The research began several years ago and early findings were revealed at the annual International Symposium of the L’Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research in 2007.

McMichael concluded:

“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 better ways to address this issue.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist