January 30, 2017

Add Health Research in the New York Times: Why Succeeding Against the Odds Can Make You Sick

Summary: Dr. Gene Brody and his colleagues at the University of Georgia and Northwestern University used Add Health data analysis to support their theory that striving to succeed in the face of difficult odds can have a negative effect on black adolescents. Their study, which was published in Pediatrics, looked at the health outcomes of black adolescents who indicated that they were determined to succeed. These black adolescents who were from disadvantaged families had a higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to black adolescents from more privileged families. The article notes that these findings support an effect called “John Henryism,” where individuals that devote high energy to meet challenges tend to have worse heath outcomes.

Read the story in The New York Times: Why Succeeding Against the Odds Can Make You Sick, by James Hamblin, January 27, 2017.


‘The focus on black adolescents is significant. In much of this research, white Americans appeared somehow to be immune to the negative health effects that accompany relentless striving. As Dr. Brody put it when telling [the article’s author] about the Pittsburgh study, “We found this for black persons from disadvantaged backgrounds, but not white persons.”

It seems natural to assume that jumping from one stratum to the next — being upwardly mobile — would come with gains in health. And conceivably it could work that way — like if a person won the lottery or achieved overnight fortune from writing a truly insightful tweet. But decades of research show that when resilient people work hard within a system that has not afforded them the same opportunities as others, their physical health deteriorates.’

Scholarly Source: Brody GH, Yu T, Miller GE, Chen E. Resilience in Adolescence, Health, and Psychosocial Outcomes. Pediatrics 2016; 138(6).