ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAlbany: Adverse Childhood Experience and Perceived Racial Discrimination Connected to Body Mass Index

Obesity leads to severe health issues such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes — and for older adults, it may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Although obesity in older adults has traditionally been considered a result of slowing metabolism, changes in diet, and reduced physical activity, studies show that psychosocial factors and psychological stressors throughout the lifespan may also contribute to this condition.

Drs. Elizabeth Vasquez, Tomoko Udo, and Benjamin Shaw recently studied adverse childhood experience (ACE) and perceived racial discrimination (PRD) in relation to the body mass index (BMI) of middle-aged and older adults. Their findings indicate that screening for these risk factors across the lifespan may help to combat the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

The team analyzed data from 10,548 non-institutionalized adults aged 55+ from the 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, where participants self-reported ACEs, PRD, and weight and height (used by the team to determine BMI).

Their work found racial/ethnic differences in the relationship between ACEs, PRD, and BMI for older adults. The prevalence of ACE and PRD was significantly greater for Black and Hispanic participants compared to White participants, and ACEs were associated with greater odds of reporting PRD within each racial/ethnic group. Experiencing ACEs was not strongly associated with risk for higher BMI in any group, but PRD was associated with higher BMI, particularly among Hispanic participants.

With 41 percent of older adults currently considered obese, this work sheds light on the complex etiology of this condition, which may involve psychosocial stress experienced by some racial/ethnic groups.