Recently 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 Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute‘s 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, Dr. Ivan 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.