American Sociological Association

BMI Trajectories in Adulthood: The Intersection of Skin Color, Gender, and Age among African Americans

This study addresses three research questions critical to understanding if and how skin color shapes health among African Americans: (1) Does skin color predict trajectories of body mass index (BMI) among African Americans across ages 32 to 55? (2) To what extent is this relationship contingent on gender? (3) Do sociodemographic, psychosocial, and behavioral factors explain the skin color–BMI relationship? Using data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study and growth curve models, results indicate that dark-skinned women have the highest BMI across adulthood compared to all other skin color–gender groups. BMI differences between dark- and lighter-skinned women remain stable from ages 32 to 55. Among men, a BMI disadvantage emerges and widens between light- and dark-skinned men and their medium-skinned counterparts. Observed sociodemographic characteristics, stressors, and health behaviors do not explain these associations. Overall, findings suggest that skin color– and gender-specific experiences likely play an important role in generating BMI inequality.


Taylor W. Hargrove





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