Background: Few studies have examined the influence of country of birth and acculturation status on indicators of obesity using national samples of Mexican-American women and men.
Methods: We analysed data for 1387 Mexican-American women and 1404 Mexican- American men, ages 25-64, from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994). We examined whether waist circumference and abdominal obesity varied by country of birth and acculturation status (primary language spoken), and whether among those with abdominal obesity, number of associated cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors varied by country of birth and acculturation status.
Results: Both country of birth and, to a lesser degree, acculturation status were significantly associated with waist circumference and abdominal obesity. Mexican-born women and men had the smallest waist circumference (90.4 cm, 94.0 cm respectively), US-born English-speaking women and men had intermediate waist circumference (93.6 cm, 97.3 cm), and US-born Spanish-speaking women and men had the largest waist circumference (96.9 cm, 97.7 cm), after accounting for age, education, per cent of energy from dietary fat, leisure-time physical activity, and smoking. All women had high prevalences of abdominal obesity, particularly US-born Spanish-speaking women (68.7%). In addition, US-born Spanish-speaking women with abdominal obesity were significantly more likely than their counterparts to have one or more of the following CVD risk factors: high serum insulin, non-insulin dependent diabetes, high blood lipids, and/or hypertension.
Conclusions: These findings illustrate the heterogeneity of the Mexican-American population and suggest that country of birth and lack of acculturation to the majority culture, as well as secondary lifestyle changes, may explain the significant clinical differences observed in abdominal obesity within Mexican-American population subgroups.