Does the Racial Composition of the School Environment Influence Children's Body Mass Index?

Obesity among young adults is a major public health problem in the United States. This paper investigates the extent to which the racial composition of schools influences the weight of children by race and gender. The researchers used data from the Survey of Adults and Youth, which was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Urban Health Initiative. In all, data for 1,579 youths living in 1,263 households were included in the analyses.

Key Findings:

  • Body mass index (BMI) increases with age and is higher among black and Hispanic adolescents.
  • BMI of youth is positively associated with parental BMI.
  • Television watching is associated with an increase in BMI among white children, but not among blacks or Hispanic youth.
  • Hispanic and black girls in predominantly white schools have a lower BMI than girls in schools where the majority of students are nonwhite.
  • As for boys, neither racial identity nor the racial composition of the schools affected their BMI.

This study leads one to believe that peer group is key in influencing adolescents and that school environment does make a difference in children’s’ propensity to obesity.