Association of Racial Discrimination With Adiposity in Children and Adolescents

Adolfo G. Cuevas, Danielle M. Krobath, Brennan Rhodes-Bratton, Shu Xu, Jesulagbarami J. Omolade, Aniyah R. Perry, Natalie Slopen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Childhood obesity is a major public health issue and is disproportionately prevalent among children from minority racial and ethnic groups. Personally mediated racism (commonly referred to as racial discrimination) is a known stressor that has been linked to higher body mass index (BMI; calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) in adults, but little is known about the association of racial discrimination and childhood and adolescent adiposity. Objective: To assess the prospective association between self-reported experiences of racial discrimination and adiposity (BMI and waist circumference) in a large sample of children and adolescents in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study used complete data from the ABCD study (2017 to 2019), involving a total of 6463 participants. The ABCD study recruited a diverse sample of youths from across the US, with rural, urban, and mountain regions. Data were analyzed from January 12 to May 17, 2023. Exposure: The child-reported Perceived Discrimination Scale was used to quantify racial discrimination, reflecting participants' perceptions of being treated unfairly by others or unaccepted by society based on their race or ethnicity. Main Outcomes and Measures: Weight, height, and waist circumference were measured by trained research assistants. BMI z scores were computed by applying the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's age and sex-specific reference standards for children and adolescents. Waist circumference (inches) was quantified as the mean of 3 consecutive measures. Measurements were taken from time 1 (ie, 2017 to 2019) and time 2 (ie, 2018 to 2020). Results: Of the 6463 respondents with complete data, 3090 (47.8%) were female, and the mean (SD) age was 9.95 (0.62) years. Greater racial discrimination exposure at time 1 was associated with higher BMI z score in both unadjusted (β, 0.05; 95% CI, 0.02-0.08) and adjusted regression models (β, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.01-0.08). Discrimination at time 1 was associated with higher waist circumference in unadjusted (β, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.15-0.54) and adjusted (β, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.04-0.44) models. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study of children and adolescents, racial discrimination was positively associated with adiposity, quantified by BMI z score and waist circumference. Interventions to reduce exposure to racial discrimination in early life may help reduce the risk of excess weight gain across throughout life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2322839
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 3 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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