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Child Obes. 2018 Feb/Mar;14(2):114-121. doi: 10.1089/chi.2017.0218. Epub 2017 Dec 6.

Racial Discrimination and Low Household Education Predict Higher Body Mass Index in African American Youth.

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1 School of Kinesiology, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, MI.
2 Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, MI.
3 School of Public Health, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, MI.



The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between environmental factors, including household education, community violence exposure, racial discrimination, and cultural identity, and BMI in African American adolescents.


A community-based sample of 198 African American youth (120 girls, 78 boys; ages 11-19 years) from Washtenaw County, Michigan, were included in this analysis. Violence exposure was assessed by using the Survey of Children's Exposure to Community Violence; racial discrimination by using the Adolescent Discrimination Distress Index; cultural identity by using the Acculturation, Habits, and Interests Multicultural Scale for Adolescents; and household education by using a seven-category variable. Measured height and body weight were used to calculate BMI.


Racial discrimination was positively associated with BMI, whereas household education was inversely associated with BMI in African American adolescents (discrimination: β = 0.11 ± 0.04, p = 0.01; education: β = -1.13 ± 0.47, p = 0.02). These relationships were significant when accounting for the confounding effects of stress, activity, diet, and pubertal development. Significant gender interactions were observed with racial discrimination and low household education associated with BMI in girls only (discrimination: β = 0.16 ± 0.05, p = 0.003; education: β = -1.12 ± 0.55, p = 0.045). There were no significant relationships between culture, community violence exposure, and BMI (all p's > 0.05).


Environmental factors, including racial discrimination and low household education, predicted higher BMI in African American adolescents, particularly among girls. Longitudinal studies are needed to better understand the mechanisms by which these environmental factors increase obesity risk in African American youth.


adolescents; cultural identity; ethnicity; obesity; stress


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