Racial Discrimination Might Be Contributing To Obesity in Children and Teens, Study Shows

In Education

According to a recent study published in JAMA Network Open children who face racial discrimination are at risk of developing a larger waistline and higher body mass index (BMI) in the future. This suggests that racial discrimination could be a contributing factor to obesity in young individuals, even when considering other socioeconomic aspects like family income.

Racial discrimination is a social determinant of obesity

Lead study author Professor Adolfo Cuevas said that there is need for acknowledgement of racial discrimination as a social cause of obesity and a leading contributor to disparities in obesity among teenagers and children.

Childhood obesity is a significant concern in the United States, with approximately 20% of children and teenagers affected. Minority groups, particularly Hispanic and Black youth, have even higher obesity rates. The causes of this disparity are believed to include factors such as poverty, limited access to healthy food in neighborhoods, and single-parent households.

Recent studies indicate that racial discrimination, a known stressor, can lead to various health problems, including sleep disturbances, poor mental health, and elevated cortisol levels. While there is evidence linking racial discrimination to increased body mass index (BMI) in adults, its effects on children and adolescents are less understood.

Children exposed to racial discrimination at risk of obesity

In the study researchers assessed children’s experiences of racial discrimination and measured their BMI and waist circumference one year later. Despite considering socioeconomic factors such as household income and parents’ education levels, the study found that children who faced more racial discrimination had larger waist circumference and higher BMI. The researchers suggest that reducing exposure to racial discrimination early in life could help mitigate the risk of weight gain throughout one’s life.

Cuevas said that although they tested racial discrimination at a single point it is vital to acknowledge that prolonged racial discrimination exposure increases risk of obesity. Therefore, mitigating or preventing the impact of racial discrimination early can potentially reduce obesity risk. It is important for clinicians, educators, policymakers, and researchers to collaborate to come up with evidence-based measures that can prevent racial discrimination exposure to improve obesity risk in communities.

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