Can racial disparity in health between black and white Americans be attributed to racial disparities in body weight and socioeconomic status?

Health Soc Work. 2010 Nov;35(4):257-66. doi: 10.1093/hsw/35.4.257.


Few studies have examined to what extent racial disparities in chronic health conditions (CHCs) are attributable to racial differences in body weight (measured as body mass index [BMI]) and socioeconomic status (SES) among older adults. To address this gap, using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, the current study examined risk factors of CHC trajectory including race, BMI, and SES. The sample consists of 22,560 in 1998, 20,825 in 2000, and 19,004 in 2002. Data analysis was done through latent growth curve modeling. As expected, older adults presented an increasing trajectory of CHCs over time. Black Americans presented a significantly more negative CHC trajectory than did their white counterparts, confirming racial disparity in health over time. Consequent hierarchical analyses revealed that racial disparity in CHC trajectory can be explained by racial disparity in BMI and that racial disparity in BMI can be attributed to racial disparity in SES. Because low SES is closely related to unhealthy diet and negative health behaviors that may subsequently lead to obesity and chronic health conditions, the findings suggest that to address racial disparity in CHCs, it is important for social workers to continuously try to mitigate racial inequality in SES.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Black or African American
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Class*
  • United States
  • White People