Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Antonia Abbey


Disparities between African Americans and Caucasians remain vast across a wide variety of health indicators. Chronic stress has been identified as a risk factor for a variety of chronic illnesses and poor health outcomes. One type of chronic stress that has been linked to health disparities is the stress associated with experiences of racial discrimination. The stress African Americans encounter as a result of their racist experiences contributes to a chronic elevation of their physiological stress response. In addition to stress, a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and diabetes is obesity, which has been established as a major health problem in the United States. Obesity in African American women tends to be the result of psychosocial, behavioral, cultural, and environmental factors, among others. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate possible psychosocial contributions of racism-related stress and the eating behaviors of African American women to their high rates of obesity. Thus, this study was designed to link survey research demonstrating racial discrimination as a stressor with negative effects on health behaviors and outcomes in African Americans with laboratory studies demonstrating how stress produces binge eating among individuals who typically try to restrain their eating. A number of hypotheses guided this two-part study, which followed a 2 (Eating Style: Restrained vs. Unrestrained Eating) x 2 (Ostracism: Inclusion vs. Exclusion) x 2 (Reference Group: Outgroup vs. Ingroup) design. Three hundred nineteen women participated in Study 1 where they completed questionnaires on their eating behaviors and racist experiences, and 124 of those women participated in the lab portion, Study 2, where they ate snacks as they engaged in an online social interaction with 3 other participants. Results indicate that although the in-lab manipulated experience of discrimination had numerous detrimental effects on psychological well-being, it did not influence the amount of food participants ate in the laboratory. Although many of the hypotheses were not supported, this study may provide procedural precedence for future restrained or emotional eating, racial microaggressions, or social ostracism studies. Results from this study also suggest several useful implications for obesity treatment and prevention programs.