Sarah Griffiths, Daily Mail (London), March 5, 2014
There are many reasons why an increasing number of people are classified as obese — and now racism could be one of them.
Frequent experiences of racism are associated with a higher risk of obesity among African American women, a new study claims.
Scientists found that women who were more frequently victimised for their race, were more likely to be obese.
The study, by Slone Epidemiology Centre at Boston University, found the relationship between racism and obesity was strongest among women who reported consistently high experience of racism over a 12 year period.
The research was based on the Black Women’s Health Study, which enrolled 59,000 African-American women in 1995 and has followed them since.
While rates of obesity in the U.S. have risen rapidly over the past few decades, the greatest increases have been seen in African American women, half of whom are currently classified as obese.
Obesity is a risk factor for numerous health conditions including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and orthopaedic problems.
Scientists said that racism is a form of psychosocial stress that African Americans experience disproportionately.
It is thought that experiences of racism contribute to obesity. Data suggests that chronic exposure to stress can result in dysregulation of important neuroendocrine functions, (interactions between the nervous and endocrine systems) which can influence the accumulation of excess body fat.
The Black Women’s Health Study collected information on experiences of racism, height and weight and other lifestyle factors via biennial questionnaires.
The participants were asked in 1997 and in 2009 to rate the frequency of ‘everyday’ experiences of racism, such as receiving poorer service in restaurants and if they had been treated unfairly because of their race in their job, in housing or by the police.
Researchers analysed the results of women under the age of 40 in 2009 because most adult weight gain occurs during the reproductive years.
They found that women in the highest category of reported everyday racism in both 1997 and 2009 were 69 per cent more likely to become obese compared to those in the lowest category.
Women who reported more lifetime racism were also at increased risk of obesity, according to the study, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
‘Experiences of racism may explain in part the high prevalence of obesity among African American women,’ said Yvette Cozier, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University who led the research.
She believes that workplace and community-based programmes to combat racism are an important component in strategies to prevent obesity, especially in high risk communities.