Living in Hispanic or black communities increases risk for obesity

Research Activities, December 2012, No. 388

One of the more exciting areas of obesity research deals with community-level characteristics that can promote unhealthy lifestyles and obesity. These include lack of sidewalks, minimal food selections, and even the racial/ethnic makeup of a community. A new study by James B. Kirby, Ph.D., and Lan Liang, Ph.D., researchers at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and other researchers investigated the complex relationship between racial/ethnic composition of communities and obesity levels. They found that living in a community with a high concentration of Hispanics was associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI) and obesity among non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics. However, living in communities with a high Asian concentration resulted in lower BMI and lower odds for obesity among non-Hispanic whites.

The study based its findings on nationally representative data collected from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey pooled from 2002 to 2007. Census data yielded information on poverty and racial/ethnic composition at the community level. BMI was calculated based on self-reported weight and height. Individuals were considered obese if their BMI exceeded 30. (Normal weight is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 and overweight is 25 to 29.9). Blacks were the most likely group to be obese, with a prevalence of 36.1 percent. Next came Hispanics (28.7 percent), followed by whites (24.5 percent), and Asians (7.1 percent). Average BMIs for all 4 groups were 28.6, 27.7, 26.9, and 24.0, respectively. Individuals living in communities with a high proportion of Hispanics had significantly higher BMIs and were more likely to be obese compared to others. Lower average BMIs and obesity rates were found among residents of Asian communities.

Hispanics living in areas where 25 percent or more residents were Hispanic had higher BMIs and were more likely to be obese compared to other individuals. Whites living in these Hispanic communities also had higher BMIs and were more likely to be obese. However, whites living in Asian neighborhoods had lower BMI scores and rates of obesity.

More details are in "Race, place, and obesity: The complex relationships among community racial/ethnic composition, individual race/ethnicity, and obesity in the United States," by Dr. Kirby, Dr. Liang, Hsin-Jen Chen, M.S., and Youfa Wang, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., in the August 2012 American Journal of Public Health 102(8), pp. 1572-1578. Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 12-R086) are available from the AHRQ Publications Online Store .

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Current as of December 2012
Internet Citation: Living in Hispanic or black communities increases risk for obesity: Research Activities, December 2012, No. 388. December 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/12dec/1212RA31.html