Differential Trends in Weight-Related Health Behaviors Among American Young Adults by Gender, Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status

This study investigated temporal patterns from 1984 to 2006 in six weight-related health behaviors by using longitudinal data for multiple cohorts of young adults (ages 19 to 26) from the nationally representative Monitoring the Future Study. The authors used growth curve models to examine historical trends in six health behaviors: frequency of eating breakfast, eating green vegetables, eating fruit, exercising, watching television and sleeping seven hours each night. Variations across gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status were investigated.

Frequency of exercising was consistently lower among young adult women than young adult men over this 23-year period. Compared with White women, Hispanic women and women from other race/ethnic groups, Black women showed declines in the frequency of exercise since 1984. In general, young adult women showed a marked increase in the frequency of eating breakfast over this period, although Black women did not show any net gains.

The study concluded that social disparities in body weight may increase because Black women, Hispanic women and men with lower socioeconomic status show declining trends in positive weight-related health behaviors compared with White young adults with higher socioeconomic status.