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Ethn Dis. 2012 Spring;22(2):185-91.

Chronic stress and decreased physical exercise: impact on weight for African American women.

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  • 1Department of Social Work and Human Services, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.



African American women continue to have the highest prevalence of obesity in the United States and in the state of Maryland they are disproportionately affected by overweight and obesity. There are many contributing factors including chronic stress and the use of health behaviors such as physical exercise that play a role in increased weight for African American women. We examined the relationship of stress to weight and the role of physical exercise in African American paraprofessional women.


Cross-sectional study


African American paraprofessionals were asked about their perspectives regarding association with chronic stress and physical exercise.


The three most salient stressors for the women were finances (33%), work (28%) and family/friends (19%). Ninety percent of the women were overweight or obese. Significant predictors of increased BMI were lack of physical exercise (P = .004) and health compared to others (P = .006). Ethnic discrimination was a form of chronic stress (r = .319) but was not correlated with BMI (r = .095). Decreased physical exercise (P = .02) mediated the relationship between chronic stress and BMI.


Findings regarding finance and work stress suggest the need for employers to consider the impact of job strain when implementing employee health programs to decrease stress and improve health. A focus on decreased physical exercise, unhealthy eating habits and misperceptions regarding increased risk for obesity related diseases with health status may be helpful to include in intervention strategies to decrease obesity for this population.

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