Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 3–12 | Cite as

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

  • A. Janet TomiyamaEmail author
  • Eli Puterman
  • Elissa S. Epel
  • David H. Rehkopf
  • Barbara A. Laraia
Original Article



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 



The authors received support from the following: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program (AJT) and the University of California Office of the President Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives Grant 142691. This manuscript was prepared using NGHS data obtained from the NHLBI and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the NGHS or the NHLBI. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support, wisdom, and efforts of Marin Thompson, Aric Prather, Lorrene Ritchie, and Patricia Crawford.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors have no conflict of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Janet Tomiyama
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eli Puterman
    • 2
  • Elissa S. Epel
    • 2
  • David H. Rehkopf
    • 3
  • Barbara A. Laraia
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.University of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  3. 3.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  4. 4.University of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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