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The effects of social adversity, discrimination, and health risk behaviors on the accelerated aging of African Americans: Further support for the weathering hypothesis.

  • Simons, Ronald L1
  • Lei, Man-Kit2
  • Klopack, Eric3
  • Beach, Steven R H4
  • Gibbons, Frederick X5
  • Philibert, Robert A6
  • 1 Department of Sociology, University of Georgia, 324 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA, 30602, USA. Electronic address: [email protected] , (Georgia)
  • 2 Center for Family Research, University of Georgia, 1095 College Station Road, Athens, GA, 30605, USA. , (Georgia)
  • 3 Department of Sociology, University of Georgia, 104 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA, 30602, USA. , (Georgia)
  • 4 Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, 157 IBR Psychology Building, Athens GA, 30602, USA. , (Georgia)
  • 5 Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Connecticut, 406 Babbidge Road, Storrs, CT, 06269, USA.
  • 6 Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa, 2-126B Medical Education Building, Iowa City, IA, 52242, USA.
Published Article
Social science & medicine (1982)
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113169
PMID: 32690336


The weathering hypothesis views the elevated rates of illness, disability, and mortality seen among Black Americans as a physiological response to the structural barriers, material hardships, and identity threats that comprise the Black experience. While granting that lifestyle may have some significance, the fundamental explanation for heath inequalities is seen as race-related stressors that accelerate biological aging. The present study tests the weathering hypothesis by examining the impact on accelerated aging of four types of adversity frequently experienced by Black Americans. Further, we investigate whether health risk behaviors mediate the effect of these conditions. Our analyses utilize data from 494 middle-age, African American men and women participating in the Family and Community Healthy Study. The newly developed GrimAge index of accelerated aging is used as an indicator of weathering. Education, income, neighborhood disadvantage, and discrimination serve as the independent variables. Three health risk behaviors - diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption - are included as potential mediators of the four types of adversity. Marital status and gender are entered as controls. Multivariate analyses indicated that the four types of adversity predicted acceleration whereas marriage predicted deceleration in speed of aging. Males showed greater accelerated aging than females, but there was no evidence that gender conditioned the effect of adversity. The health risk behaviors were unrelated to accelerated aging and did not mediate the effect of the stressors. Modern medicine's emphasis on life style as the primary explanation for race-based health disparities ignores the way race-related adversity rooted in structural and cultural conditions serves to accelerate biological decline, thereby increasing risk of early onset of illness and death. Importantly, these social conditions can only be addressed through social policies and programs that target institutional racism and promote economic equity. Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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