A US study finds that black teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds who have a resilience to succeed could be more likely to develop health problems such as type 2 diabetes.
This new research from the University of Georgia found that determined black adolescents from low-income homes were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes by age 29 compared to high-achieving black teens from more affluent homes.
But the study, published in Pediatrics, does not prove any causal link between ambition and the subsequent development of health conditions.
Lead author Gene Brody and colleagues wanted to examine “skin-deep resilience” in black adults, which is classed as showing few outward signs of stress despite having an increased risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Data was evaluated on 1,431 black youths and 3,935 white youths, who all completed surveys when aged 16 that asked for their aspirations towards education and activities that can sidetrack success. Aged 29, they completed another survey that included questions on college graduatio, incomen, symptoms of depression and type 2 diabetes status.
Around 30 per cent of black 16-year-olds lived in households considered low-incomen, while 11 per cent of white teens came from poor households.
All teens considered disadvantaged were less likely to graduate from college, more likely to have depression and have lower incomes compared to those who had greater resources growing up.
Poor black youths were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as an adult when they were experiencing success, but these findings were not observed in the white teens.
“This study is the first to show that an unrelenting determination to succeed among black adolescents from disadvantaged backgrounds forecasts an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes during adulthood,” said the researchers.
“The reason why this happens is still very much up for debate,” added Dr. Gary Maslow, a researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who wrote an accompanying editorial. “It could be related to the physical effects of chronic stress, with high-strivers from disadvantaged backgrounds facing greater stressors as they strive to succeed.”
“However, there are other potential hypotheses that need to be explored as well to fully explain this associatio,” Maslow told Reuters by email. “For instance, health behaviour choices related to diet and physical activity may also play a role, as young people work hard to achieve academically but may struggle to care well for themselves in other ways.”
A limitation of this study is that it relied on the 16-year-olds to accurately report on important factors such as family incomen, while researchers lacked data that assessed how skin-deep resilience could apply to teens from other racial or ethnic groups.

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