Weight gain more likely in minority kids

April 2, 2015

Children of minority ethnic groups-Hispanic/Latino, African American, and American Indian-are more prone to gain weight earlier in life than children of European descent, according to research findings presented at the American Heart Association’s March Scientific Sessions in Baltimore, Maryland.

Children of minority ethnic groups-Hispanic/Latino, African American, and American Indian-are more prone to gain weight earlier in life than children of European descent, according to research findings presented at the American Heart Association’s March Scientific Sessions in Baltimore, Maryland.

Researchers examined 3 data sets-the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the Strong Heart Study, and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey-comprising a total of 31,597 US adults to evaluate weight transition patterns in people aged 18 years and older. At 18 years, prevalence of normal weight (body mass index [BMI] less than 25 kg/m2) ranged from 49% to 73%. American Indian girls had the lowest prevalence and European-American girls the highest.

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Between 18 and 30 years of age, American Indian men moved away from normal weight toward overweight (BMI, 25 kg/m2 to 29.99 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI, 30 kg/m2 or greater) at a rate of 6.9% per year. Marked transitions from normal weight to overweight and obesity also occurred among American Indian women (6% per year), Hispanic/Latino men (5.6% per year), and African American women (5.2% per year).

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Estimated 1-year transitions from overweight to obesity peaked at age 18 years for both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups. American Indian women gained weight most rapidly overall with 10.6% who were overweight at age 18 years becoming obese 1 year later.

In all the evaluated populations, larger proportions gained weight, transitioning from overweight to obesity, than lost weight, moving from obesity to overweight, until late middle age (range 43 years to 58 years). After that, the proportion of adults classified as obese showed small decreases. The researchers speculate that the “very modest” declines might reflect “selective survival.”

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The results of the study suggest that by 18 years of age, substantial numbers of American Indians, Hispanic/Latinos, and African Americans have already moved from normal weight toward overweight and obesity and will have difficulty returning to normal body weight over the course of their adult lives, the researchers conclude. Contributing factors may include genetics, physiology, environment, culture, and socioeconomic status. 

Based on their findings, the researchers advocate designing and instituting evidence-based interventions to prevent and control obesity in children and adolescents, especially African American, American Indian, and Hispanic/Latino youth.