White adults who see discrimination often overweight

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Certain white adults who say they’ve been discriminated against in their daily lives are more likely to be obese than their peers who haven’t perceived personal discrimination, a new study finds.

Pedestrians wait to walk across a street near Times Square in New York August 28, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The study of U.S. adults, reported in the American Journal of Public Health, found that perceived unfair treatment was associated with increased abdominal girth. Weight was not, however, clearly related to feelings of discrimination among black and Hispanic adults.

For the study, researchers led by Dr. Haslyn Hunte of Purdue University in Indiana analyzed data on 3,025 adults who had taken part in a Chicago-area health study.

Participants were weighed and interviewed about their health habits and demographics. They were also asked about perceived discrimination -- including how often they believed they’d been treated disrespectfully, received poorer service than other people or felt threatened or harassed.

Overall, the researchers found, one-quarter of study participants said they’d been discriminated against based on race or ethnicity, while 40 percent believed they’d been treated unfairly based on other reasons.

The association between perceived discrimination and weight among Whites was stronger in certain groups. “Compared with Irish, Jewish, Polish and Italian Whites who did not experience perceived chronic discrimination, Irish, Jewish, Polish and Italian Whites who perceived chronic discrimination were 2 to 6 times more likely to have a high-risk waist circumference,” the investigators report.

White ethnic groups “have historically been discriminated against,” the researchers point out. They may experience higher levels of perceived discrimination than do other Whites, and this experience “may adversely affect their health.”

In contrast, there was no clear evidence that weight was related to perceived bias among black and Hispanic adults.

Hunte’s team speculates that this may be because of expectations; African- and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be accustomed to bias and may have an easier time putting discrimination aside. Bias may be less expected, and therefore more difficult to deal with, among whites.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, December 2008.