Increasing body weight and the transition from welfare to work: findings from the National Survey of American Life

Ethn Dis. Winter 2009;19(1):13-7.


Objective: Few studies focus on employment outcomes for overweight and obese low-income women. We describe the relationship between body mass index and employment status among African American, Caribbean Black and White women who receive assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family program.

Methods: This was a secondary analysis of data from the National Survey of American Life dataset. We analyzed a sample of 1039 community-dwelling adult women who reported that they received public assistance.

Results: African Americans and Whites reported the highest rates of obesity, 45% and 48%, respectively. Logistic regression analyses for the entire sample revealed that being overweight or obese did not significantly predict employment status, controlling for known covariates. This aggregate effect concealed ethnic differences. African American women who were overweight (OR 1.60, P < .05) and Caribbean Black women who were obese (OR 3.41, P < .05) were more likely to be employed, but overweight White women (OR .09, P<.01) were less likely to be employed.

Conclusion: Overweight was as an employment barrier only to White women. By contrast, overweight African American women and obese Caribbean Black women were more likely than were women of a normal weight to be employed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight / ethnology
  • Caribbean Region / ethnology
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Public Assistance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology