Does Racism Contribute to Higher Rates of Obesity Among Blacks?

rutgersnewarkA new study led by Luis Rivera, an experimental social psychologist at Rutgers University-Newark, finds that exposure to racial and ethnic stereotypes can hinder members of minority groups in their efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Rivera says that Blacks and Latinos are routinely exposed to negative stereotypes which tend to lower self-esteem. When people doesn’t feel good about themselves they are less motivated to take the steps necessary to lose weight and adopt healthy eating habits.

Dr. Rivera states that “when you are exposed to negative stereotypes, you may gravitate more toward unhealthy foods as opposed to healthy foods. You may have a less positive attitude toward watching your carbs or cutting back on fast food, and toward working out and exercising.”

So how does a person discouraged by stereotypes overcome them? According to Dr. Rivera, research suggests that exposure to positive racial and ethnic role models might help racial and ethnic minorities in developing a healthy lifestyle. Something else worth trying, he says, could be designing approaches to weight loss that emphasize the person’s positive qualities – as a way to counteract the corrosive effects of prejudice.

The study, “Stereotypes Can ‘Get Under the Skin’: Testing a Self-Stereotyping and Psychological Resource Model of Overweight and Obesity,” appears in this June 2014 edition of the Journal of Social Issues.  It may be accessed here.

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