Parental incarceration and gender-based risks for increased body mass index: evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the United States

Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Apr 1;175(7):636-44. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr409. Epub 2012 Mar 21.


Although recent studies suggest that 13% of young adults, including at least one-fourth of African Americans, experience parental incarceration, little research has examined links between parental incarceration and physical health. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (1994-2008) and gender-based theories of stress, the authors examined whether parental incarceration is associated with increased body mass index among women but not men. Panel analysis spanning adolescence and adulthood, controlling for stressful life events, internalizing behaviors, and a range of individual, familial, and neighborhood characteristics, reveals that body mass index for women who have experienced parental incarceration is 0.49 units (P < 0.004) higher than that for women whose parents have never been incarcerated. This association is not evident among men. Similarly, in change score models between waves II and IV, women experiencing parental incarceration have a 0.92-unit increase in body mass index (P < 0.026) relative to women who did not have a parent undergo incarceration. In supplemental analysis examining if gender differences in incarceration stress response (externalizing vs. internalizing) explain these findings, the authors found that obesity status moderates the relation between depression and parental incarceration. Results suggest a stress internalization process that, for the first time, links parental incarceration with obesity among women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Parents
  • Prisoners*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology