Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Obesity Among US-Born and Foreign-Born Adults by Sex and Education

An examination of racial/ethnic disparities in obesity among U.S.- and foreign-born Whites, Blacks and Hispanics reveals complex variations by sex and educational level. Comprehension of these relationships is vital for designing future obesity research and intervention strategies.

Within the United States, social disparities in obesity include sex, racial/ethnic, nativity status (foreign-born versus U.S.-born) and socioeconomic differences. This study examines sex and education variations in obesity among U.S.- and foreign-born Whites, Blacks and Hispanics utilizing 1997-2005 data from the National Health Interview Survey on 267,585 adults.

Key Findings:

  • Foreign-born Black men had the lowest odds for obesity relative to U.S.-born White men.
  • The largest racial/ethnic disparity in obesity was between U.S.-born Black and White women.
  • High educational attainment diminished the U.S.-born Black-White and Hispanic-White disparities among women; increased these disparities among men; and had minimal effect on foreign-born Hispanic-White disparities among women and men.

These results demonstrate complex sex and educational variations in racial/ethnic disparities in obesity. Comprehension of these variations is vital for conducting effective research into their mechanisms and for designing group-specific programs and interventions to curb the dramatic rise in obesity across all populations within the United States. Study strengths include the use of a large, nationally representative sample of three major racial/ethnic groups. One potential limitation is the use of self-reported body mass index that may be over or under-estimated to a degree that may differ both by race/ethnicity and by sex.