Posted on July 20, 2023

A Catalyst for Childhood Obesity: How Racism Has ‘Huge Implications’ for Health Trajectory

Karen Weintraub, USA Today, July 11, 2023

Racism contributes to childhood obesity, according to a new study that found children as young as 9 were more likely to meet the definition of obesity if they faced racism a year earlier.

Though the link between racism and obesity has long been assumed, this was a clear confirmation in children, said co-author Adolfo Cuevas, an expert on racism and health at the NYU School of Global Public Health.

Children of color are “able to see that they are being treated unfairly based on their skin tone,” Cuevas said. “And this has huge, huge implications for their life course trajectory when it comes to their health.”

A large body of research connects racial discrimination to poor health outcomes, said David Williams, a leading figure in that research and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


The study, published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, found significant racial differences in the obesity rates of more than 6,000 children ages 9 to 11. Less than 7% of children who identified as white met the medical definition for having obesity, compared with 9% of Asian Americans, 18% of Hispanics of any race, 21% of Native Americans or Alaskan natives, and more than 24% of Black Americans.

The more racial discrimination a child reported being exposed to in an initial interview between 2017 and 2019, the more likely they were to have a high body mass index a year later, the study found.

More than 24% of children whose parents were in the lowest income category were more likely to meet the definition of obesity, compared with just 4% of children with parents in the highest income category. And children whose parents had a high school diploma or less were more likely to have obesity than those whose parents had a graduate degree.