Background: Although obesity and depression have a bidirectional association, this link may vary based on race. The current study tested racial variation in bidirectional links between depressive symptoms and body mass index (BMI) over 24 years of follow-up in older adults over the age of 50 in the United States. We hypothesized weaker bidirectional links in Blacks compared to Whites. Methods: Data came from waves 1 to 12 (1990 to 2014) of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing state-of-the-art national cohort. The study followed a representative sample of Americans (n = 15,194; 2,200 Blacks and 12,994 Whites) over the age of 50. Dependent variables were average depressive symptoms and BMI over 24 years, based on measurements every other year, from 1990 to 2014. Independent variables included baseline depressive symptoms and BMI. Covariates included age, gender, marital status, veteran status, and activities of daily living. Structural equation models were fitted to the data for data analysis. Results: In the pooled sample, bidirectional associations were found between BMI and depressive symptoms as baseline BMI predicted average depressive symptoms over time and baseline depressive symptoms predicted average BMI over 24 years. Racial differences were found in the bidirectional association between BMI and depressive symptoms, with both directions of the associations being absent for Blacks. For Whites, baseline BMI predicted average depressive symptoms over the next 24 years. Conclusion: Reciprocal associations between BMI and depressive symptoms over a 24-year period among individuals over the age of 50 vary for Blacks and Whites. As these associations are stronger for Whites than Blacks, clinical and public health programs that simultaneously target comorbid obesity and depression may be more appropriate for Whites than Blacks.
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