Cumulative Social Risk and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Obesity During the Transition to Adulthood

Two women hug each other.

The Issue:

Using the cumulative risk index (CRI), this study examines the role of the accumulation of social risk factors in racial/ethnic disparities in obesity. Social risks may explain the disparities in obesity for females, especially among Blacks versus Whites.

Key Findings

  • Black and Hispanic females had approximately a 50 percent increase in the odds of becoming obese from adolescence to adulthood. Additionally, they displayed a 90 percent increase in the odds of being persistently obese from adolescence to adulthood.


Black females transitioning to adulthood may experience higher levels of obesity risk due to multiple social risk factors that they experience compared with other races. CRIs cannot identify which social factors impact obesity the most, which is an important limitation to this study. Further study in this area may help researchers better understand how social risk factors should be addressed to lessen the risk of obesity. Additionally, measures of when obesity began, physical activity, and dietary patterns were not included in this analysis.

About the Study:

Data from three waves of the ongoing U.S.-based National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health was collected for 3,975 females and 3,730 males. Obesity status was measured over the transition from adolescence in Wave II to adulthood in Wave III. Eight family and neighborhood risk factors were included in the CRI: (1) Not breastfed as an infant; (2) Parent obese; (3) Trouble paying bills; (4) Single of surrogate parent family; (5) No curfew; (6) Physical abuse; (7) High neighborhood poverty; and (8) Neighborhood unsafe.