Objective: To trace how racial/ethnic and immigrant disparities in body mass index (BMI) change over time as adolescents (age, 11-19 years) transition to young adulthood (age, 20-28 years).
Design: We used growth curve modeling to estimate the pattern of change in BMI from adolescence through the transition to adulthood.
Setting: All participants in the study were residents of the United States enrolled in junior high school or high school during the 1994-1995 school year.
Participants: More than 20 000 adolescents from nationally representative data interviewed at wave I (1994-1995) and followed up in wave II (1996) and III (2001-2002) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health when the sample was in early adulthood.
Main exposures: Race/ethnicity, immigrant generation, and sex.
Outcome measure: Body mass index.
Results: Findings indicate significant differences in both the level and change in BMI across age by sex, race/ethnicity, and immigrant generation. Females, second- and third-generation immigrants, and Hispanic and black individuals experience more rapidly increasing BMIs from adolescence into young adulthood. Increases in BMI are relatively lower for males, first-generation immigrants, and white and Asian individuals.
Conclusion: Disparities in BMI and prevalence of overweight and obesity widen with age as adolescents leave home and begin independent lives as young adults in their 20s.