The longer you stay, the bigger you get: length of time and language use in the U.S. are associated with obesity in Puerto Rican women

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2004 Sep;125(1):90-6. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.10367.


This cross-sectional study examined whether length of time in the U.S., language use, and birthplace (proxy measures of acculturation) were associated with body mass index (BMI) and obesity in a sample of 174 low-income Puerto Rican women from Hartford, Connecticut. The mean BMI for the total sample (N = 174) was 27.39 (S.D. = 5.07), and nearly 34% of the sample was considered obese (BMI > or = 30). There was a statistically significant increase in BMI with length of time in the U.S. (P = 0.012) and these differences were even greater among women born in Puerto Rico (P = 0.003). Moreover, obesity prevalence was highest among women who had been in the U.S. for 10 years or more (40%), as compared to those who had been in the U.S. less than 1 year (29%; P = 0.045). There were no statistically significant associations between language and BMI for the total sample. However, among bilingual speakers born in Puerto Rico, there were significant differences in BMI according to their level of English fluency. Those who spoke fluent or very good English had a significantly higher BMI (mean = 29.72; SD = 4.12) than women whose English was good to not-so-good (mean = 26.8; SD = 5.24; P = 0.016). The findings from this study point to the need for more research on the acculturation process and obesity, in order to design culturally tailored obesity prevention programs.

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Puerto Rico / ethnology
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology