Black college students can become overweight and in bad health because of racism, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychology professor.
The professor, Enrique W. Neblett, Jr., made the claim during a guest lecture at the University of Georgia, reports The Red & Black (the student newspaper at UGA).
Neblett’s Monday lecture was entitled “Racism-Related Stress and Mental Health: A Study of African American College Students During the Transition to Young Adulthood.”
According to his findings and the findings of others, Neblett said, racism plays a role in causing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety — and many other diseases.
College students are especially at risk.
“When African American youth are going to college and leaving home, their parents are no longer right there,” Neblett observed, according to The Red & Black.
“Youth are thinking about their identity and may experience race discrimination for the first time. Experiencing racism might lead to compromised health. For example, some students will cope by eating fatty snacks.”
The professor explained that he conducted a study relating to this special phenomenon of black people gaining weight when they go off to college with a cohort of generally healthy black students around 21 years of age. More than half of them were female. (RELATED: Calling Your Daughter A Princess Is Sexist Now)
The study presented research subjects with scenarios involving annoying acts of racism (e.g., a black person getting skipped in a queue) and flagrant acts of racism (e.g., getting called a racial epithet). There were also control scenarios, like a trip to the supermarket.
Neblett said he measured the fight-or-flight reactions of his research subjects. It’s not clear how. But based on these responses, Neblett categorized people based on how their skin color and acts of racism made them feel.
Using these categories, the professor explained, he believes he can predict which young people are more likely to end up with physical and mental illnesses.
He said he hopes the research can be utilized to find a way to intervene before people get sick.
Neblett specializes in the experiences of African-Americans at UNC-Chapel Hill, according to his faculty webpage. He is the lab director at the school’s African-American youth wellness laboratory. He himself is very fit and trim (and an avid University of Michigan fan).