Has Racial Discrimination Put Black Children At Greater Risk For Obesity?
Childhood obesity disproportionately affects children of racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.
This public health issue has been shown to likely have a connection to racial discrimination. A study published in JAMA Network Open revealed that experiences with racial discrimination for youth may increase their risk of developing obesity.
In the United States, one in five children is affected by childhood obesity. Children from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, especially Black and Hispanic youth, are substantially at risk for obesity. The disproportionate effects are likely the result of limited access to healthy foods, poverty, or living with one parent, according to NYU.
The study’s lead author, Adolfo Cueva, said, “Exposure to racial discrimination must be acknowledged as both a social determinant of obesity and a significant contributor to obesity disparities among children and adolescents.” Cuevas is an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at the NYU School of Global Public Health and a scholar in the Center for Anti-Racism, Social Justice, and Public Health at the NYU School of Global Public Health.
Although other determinants, such as income, may heighten the risk for obesity, racial discrimination is seen as a greater indicator, according to the study. Racial discrimination has also been linked to sleep disturbances, elevated cortisol levels, and declining mental health.
The study included 6,463 children from ages 9 to 11 in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study from 2017–2019. To assess if participants experienced racial discrimination, they were asked to recall if they received unfair treatment because of their race or ethnicity. Each participant’s body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were calculated a year later.
The research showed that children experiencing more racial discrimination had higher BMI and larger waist circumferences. It was determined that decreasing exposure to racial discrimination early in life can limit weight gained in a lifetime.
Cuevas said, “…preventing or at least mitigating the impact of discrimination sooner than later could potentially reduce the risk of obesity.” He also highlighted the importance of a concerted effort by educators, researchers, clinicians, and policymakers to combat obesity in the population by developing strategies that prevent exposure to racial discrimination.