Racial and socioeconomic disparities in body mass index among college students: understanding the role of early life adversity

David S. Curtis, Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell, Stacey N. Doan, Aleksandra E. Zgierska, Carol D. Ryff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The role of early life adversity (ELA) in the development of health disparities has not received adequate attention. The current study examined differential exposure and differential vulnerability to ELA as explanations for socioeconomic and racial disparities in body mass index (BMI). Data were derived from a sample of 150 college students (Mage = 18.8, SD = 1.0; 45 % African American; 55 % European American) who reported on parents’ education and income as well as on exposure to 21 early adverse experiences. Body measurements were directly assessed to determine BMI. In adjusted models, African American students had higher BMI than European Americans. Similarly, background socioeconomic status was inversely associated with BMI. Significant mediation of group disparities through the pathway of ELA was detected, attenuating disparities by approximately 40 %. Furthermore, ELA was more strongly associated with BMI for African Americans than for European Americans. Efforts to achieve health equity may need to more fully consider early adversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)866-875
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2016


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this