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Discrimination may contribute to obesity among US Latinos

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September 14, 2018

Experience of routine discrimination on adult Latinos may lead to increased BMI and contribute to growing obesity rates, according to study results published in Obesity.

Kristine M. Molina

In addition, perceived discrimination may lead to depressive symptoms, but depressive symptoms do not appear to mediate the effect of discrimination on adiposity, according to researchers.

“Evidence, albeit limited, shows that self-reported experiences of interpersonal discrimination may be implicated in obesity disparities,” Kristine M. Molina, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues wrote. “Depressive symptoms may help to explain the relation between self-reported experiences of discrimination and indicators of adiposity. ... Focusing on depressive symptoms as a potential mechanism is particularly relevant for Latinos because they report higher rates of depressive symptoms compared with non-Latino whites. Further, prior research has found that Latinos with obesity are more prone to depressive mood than their counterparts without obesity.”

To test this hypothesis, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 602 adults from the Latino Health and Well-being Project cohort, primarily from Lawrence, Massachusetts. Participants self-identified as Latino/Hispanic, were Spanish- or English-speaking and aged 21 to 85 years. The majority reported Caribbean ancestry (Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico).

Participants responded verbally to the 9-item Everyday Discrimination Scale and the 10-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale short form. Researchers calculated BMI and measured waist circumference.

On bivariate analysis, researchers found that experience of routine discrimination was correlated with both presence of depressive symptoms (P < .001) and increased waist circumference (P < .05); they observed a nonsignificant correlation between discrimination and BMI. BMI, but not waist circumference, was positively associated with depressive symptoms (P = .001), and BMI was positively correlated with waist circumference (P .001). However, on structural equation modeling, depressive symptoms were no longer associated with BMI or waist circumference.

“In light of the current sociopolitical context, our findings could be used as a baseline for future analyses investigating the pathways by which experiences of interpersonal day-to-day forms of discrimination are implicated in obesity disparities among members of a group that is disproportionately impacted by racism,” the researchers wrote. “In sum, our findings point toward the need to develop interventions focused on coping effectively with the uncontrollable and chronic nature of perceived everyday discrimination in order to intervene on obesity disparities among Latinos.” – by Phil Neuffer

Disclosures: Molina reports she received partial support from the K12 Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health Career Development Award. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.