The stats are glaring: African-American women have the highest obesity rate in the U.S.

Four out of five are overweight or obese, a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Nearly 52 percent between the ages of 20 and 74 are considered obese compared to 31.5 percent of white women in that age group.

One in four black women over 55 has diabetes.

And the icing on the cake, so to speak: Nearly 50 percent of all black females born in 2000 and beyond will likely develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Obesity is a risk factor not only for diabetes, but for heart disease and strokes, too.

Staggering numbers for sure. Hopelessness is not the answer. Ladies, it is time for us to take better care of ourselves.

Speaking out

In an Associated Press story last week, three celebrity black women — Star Jones, Nicole Ari Parker and Toni Carey — spoke out about the need to fight obesity in the black community.

Each has started efforts to battle the epidemic. That's commendable. And timely.

While many talk privately about the issue (especially the comfort foods we grew up with), it is time to speak aloud and shed light on a problem that is threatening our lives.

It's not about being skinny; it's about being fit and healthy.

One person who is winning her battle is Georgette Mayo. A few years back, the archivist at Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, was going through some stressful times and began using food as comfort. Food abuse, she calls it.

Her weight shot up, and with it went her blood pressure and cholesterol levels. She was borderline diabetic.

Then her mother died in 2010, adding even more stress.

Mayo knew better but continued her love affair with food. Then one day she got to thinking about her life and her children. She decided, “OK, now, Georgette, you need to do this if you want to be around for your three children.”

She started lifting weights. In September 2011, she starting running and eating healthier. Now, the 55-year-old runs about 15 miles a week, dropped 80 pounds and is off all medications except a low-dose drug for hypertension.She eats mostly fruits, vegetables and grains; once in a while some fish.

Running is a part of her life. Her new lifestyle is to ensure she is around for her daughters — Olivia, 20, and Zora, 17 — and her son, Jazz, 15.

Mayo has completed two half-marathons — her daughters ran with her. She loves to cook at home now and seldom eats out. Fried food is no longer a part of her diet.

She is not suggesting everyone become a runner or a vegetarian. But do something, she said. Try meatless Mondays. And walking is great. The idea is to get moving.

Mayo suggests finding someone to exercise with. She credits Black Girls Run! with giving her the support and camaraderie to change her lifestyle. “I love that group.”

The national group was started in 2009 by Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks to encourage black women to make fitness and healthy living a priority.

Last year in October, Doretha Walker of Mount Pleasant organized a local chapter. The group started with five women; now there are 831. It's open to women of all races and encourages them to move.

Check it out: blackgirlsrun.com.

Find a role model

First lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating and fitness a focus, inspiring many, especially black women. (Who doesn't want upper arms like hers?)

Mayo encourages women to find a role model, someone who inspires them. Hers is Ernestine Shepherd, the 75-year-old Guinness Book of World Records oldest competitive female bodybuilder who was a “couch potato” at 56.

Check out her “six-pack” abs.

Mayo says getting fit is a determination. “There is no easy way to do it, no pills, no magic solutions, just hard work and effort. In the long run, it is worth investing in yourself for good health and quality of life!”

To Mayo and other women — black and white — who are getting it right, you are to be commended. For the rest of us, we must not give up. We can change our behavior. But first we must get moving.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555.

or sgreene@postandcourier.com.