Long-Term Reciprocal Associations Between Depressive Symptoms and Number of Chronic Medical Conditions: Longitudinal Support for Black-White Health Paradox

Previous research has identified a Black-White health paradox, which can be defined as less frequent depression despite a higher prevalence of chronic medical conditions among Blacks compared to Whites in the USA. Based on this paradox, we would expect weaker associations between chronic medical conditions and depression among Blacks than Whites. However, the literature on this topic is mostly cross-sectional and has provided findings that contradict the Black-White health paradox. The present longitudinal study extends prior research by assessing Black-White differences in reciprocal associations between number of chronic medical conditions and depressive symptoms over a 25-year period.
Data came from the Americans' Changing Lives Study that followed 1034 surviving Black and White respondents for 25 years from 1986 to 2011. Chronic medical conditions were measured based on a count of self-reported physician diagnoses including hypertension, diabetes, chronic lung disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and arthritis at baseline (1986) and follow-up (2011). Depressive symptoms were also measured at baseline and follow-up using a 10-item Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale. Multi-group structural equation modeling was used to assess reciprocal associations between baseline and subsequent depressive symptoms and baseline and subsequent chronic medical conditions comparing Black and White respondents.
Among White but not Black respondents, a higher number of chronic medical conditions at baseline predicted a greater increase in depressive symptoms over 25 years of follow-up. Among Whites but not Blacks, individuals with more depressive symptoms at baseline developed more chronic medical conditions over time.
Findings documented Black-White differences in reciprocal associations between chronic medical conditions and depressive symptoms over time. Our study provides longitudinal evidence for the Black-White health paradox across mid and later life, as reciprocal associations between depression and chronic medical conditions were weaker for Blacks compared to Whites.