Original Article

Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 3-12

First online:

Chronic Psychological Stress and Racial Disparities in Body Mass Index Change Between Black and White Girls Aged 10–19

  • A. Janet TomiyamaAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles Email author 
  • , Eli PutermanAffiliated withUniversity of California, San Francisco
  • , Elissa S. EpelAffiliated withUniversity of California, San Francisco
  • , David H. RehkopfAffiliated withStanford University
  • , Barbara A. LaraiaAffiliated withUniversity of California, Berkeley

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One of the largest health disparities in the USA is in obesity rates between Black and White females.


The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that the stress–obesity link is stronger in Black females than in White females aged 10–19.


Multilevel modeling captured the dynamic of acute (1 month) and chronic (10 years) stress and body mass index (BMI; weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) change in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study, which consists of 2,379 Black and White girls across a span of socioeconomic status. The girls were assessed longitudinally from ages 10 to 19.


Higher levels of stress during the 10 years predicted significantly greater increases in BMI over time compared to lower levels of stress. This relationship was significantly stronger for Black compared to White girls.


Psychological stress is a modifiable risk factor that may moderate early racial disparities in BMI.


Health disparities Racial disparities Stress BMI Obesity Adolescence