Stress and ObesityRecently the medical journal, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, released a study that shows a link between chronic stress and weight gain is much stronger in black girls than white girls, and may help explain why black girls are more likely to be overweight than white girls.  As part of the research, nearly 2,400 white and black girls were followed for up to 10 years beginning at the age of 10 as part of the National HeartLungand Blood Institutes Growth and Health Study. The researchers also looked at the girls’ stress levels over that time.

Over the 10 year period, the black girls were more overweight or obese than the white ones. Apparently the black girls reported less stress than the white girls, but the effects of chronic stress on the BMI was much higher among black girls.  “Psychological stress may lead to weight gain through behavioral pathways, such as increased food consumption and sedentary lifestyles, but also directly through prolonged exposure to biological stress mediators such as cortisol,” the researchers wrote in a journal news release.

The researchers cited that black people tend to experience greater psychological stress than whites partly because of perceived racial discrimination.  These findings also suggest that stress may play a huge role not only in the obesity epidemic, but also the disparities that are found in obesity statistics. It should be said that although the study found this link, between stress and obesity in black girls, it does not prove cause and effect.

One of my favorite professors in college, DrIvan Van Sertima, author of They Came Before Columbus, would often say that the intergenerational trauma that black people still carry with them from the days of slavery, contributes to the stress experienced in present day.  Also, many things could be factored into why young black girls carry more stress with them.  Sometimes these girls have added responsibilities. I know when I was a kid, I was responsible for 3 other siblings when my mother was working.  To say that I was often stressed out is an understatement. At times I had to cook and clean, as well as make sure my siblings had their homework done. I was a kid and a mother at the same time.

The moral of this study? Young black girls need to stay stress free, engage in an active lifestyle and eat healthy.

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  • Patience

    It is impossible to be stress free.

  • Darliene Howell

    Stigma and discrimination of children based on their physical appearance or body size is resulting in physiological reactions to this stress. The pressure to reduce their body size in not only extremely difficult, if not impossible, it is BAD FOR THEIR HEALTH.

    As outlined in a 2007 report from Yale’s Rudd Center:
    “Research so far suggests that obesity may increase vulnerability to adverse physiological reactions to psychosocial stressors among youths. Experiences of weight stigma may specifically exacerbate negative health outcomes through heightened blood pressure, cortisol reactivity, and risk for hypertension. Given that similar findings pertaining to obesity and vulnerability to stress are emerging in both children and adults, it may be that obesity beginning in childhood heightens vulnerability to a long-term trajectory of negative physical responses to chronic psychosocial stressors. This could in turn increase various cardiovascular risk factors. These health problems often affect overweight children. Many of the negative psychosocial consequences of weight bias occur above and beyond the influence of high body weight, and this appears to be the case for negative health consequences as well (Matthews et al., 2005). Therefore, the health consequences common among obese children may partly result from the effects of discrimination.” (Puhl & Latner; Stigma, Obesity, and the Health of the Nation’s Children; 2007)

    Studies show that dieting, even that considered “naturalistic”, among young people lead to weight cycling [Naturalistic weight reduction efforts predicted weight gain and onset of obesity in adolescent girls; http://ebn.bmj.com/content/3/3/88.full%5D

    There is an evidence-based compassionate alternative to conventional dieting: Health At Every Size®. Please consider this alternative prior to making a decision that may result in weight cycling.

    I would also like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) and other written guidelines/resources. The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. Additionally, the CATK lists resources available to parents and educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:
    http://issuu.com/naafa/docs/naafa_childadvocacy2011combined_v04?viewMode=magazine&mode=embed

    For more information on Health At Every Size, you can find a general explanation on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_at_Every_Size) or find in-depth research-based information in the book Health At Every Size – The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Dr. Linda Bacon (http://www.lindabacon.org/HAESbook/).

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