Disparities by ethnicity and socioeconomic status in the use of weight loss treatments

J Natl Med Assoc. 2009 Jan;101(1):62-70. doi: 10.1016/s0027-9684(15)30813-0.


Background: Prior research suggests that ethnic minorities and individuals of low socioeconomic status (SES) may be more likely to attempt weight loss using unproven methods.

Methods: Data were from a national, random-digit-dial telephone survey of weight loss practices. Seven modalities of weight loss were examined. Multivariable analysis controlled for clinical and sociodemographic variables (including race/ethnicity, SES, and body mass index), as well as self-perception of weight and weight loss attitudes.

Results: In multivariable analysis, African Americans (OR, 1.71; 95% CI, 1.05-2.78; p =.03) and Latinos (OR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.11-2.60; p = .016) were more likely than Caucasians to report use of over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss supplements. African Americans (OR, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.21-0.71; p = .002) and Latinos (OR, 0.56; CI, 0.33-0.97; p = .038) also were less likely than Caucasians to report use of commercial weight loss programs. Higher-SES individuals were more likely than low-SES persons to report self-directed attempts at weight loss (OR, 1.39; CI, 1.00-1.93; p = .05) and commercial programs (OR, 2.12; CI, 1.51-2.97; p < .001) and less likely to report use of OTC supplements (OR, 0.64; CI, 0.47-0.88]; p = .006). African Americans were more likely than Caucasians to report use of medically supervised programs (OR, 1.74; CI, 1.06-2.86; p = .028).

Conclusions: With the exception of medically supervised programs, ethnic minorities and low-SES individuals are generally more likely to report use of unproven methods for weight loss and less likely to report use of potentially beneficial treatments. These findings should be explored in more detail. Use of proven treatments for weight management should be encouraged.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Social Class
  • White People / psychology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult