This paper examined the importance of household and economic contextual factors as determinants of ethnic disparities in adolescent body mass index (BMI). Individual-level data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 for the years 1997 through 2000 were combined with economic contextual data on food prices, outlet density and median household income. The Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition method was used to examine the factors that could help explain ethnic disparities in BMI. Ethnic differences in household demographic, parental socioeconomic status (SES), and economic contextual factors explained the majority of the male black-white (63%), male Hispanic-white (78%) and female Hispanic-white (62%) BMI gaps but less than one-half of the female black-white BMI gap (44%). We found that adding the economic contextual factors increased the explained portion of the ethnic BMI gap for both female and male adolescents: the economic contextual factors explained 28% and 38% of the black-white and Hispanic-white BMI gaps for males and 13% and 8% of the black-white and Hispanic-white BMI gaps for females, respectively. Parental SES was more important in explaining the Hispanic-white BMI gap than the black-white BMI gap for both genders, whereas neighborhood economic contextual factors were more important in explaining the male BMI gap than the female BMI gap for both black-white and Hispanic-white ethnic disparities. A significantly large portion of the ethnic BMI gap, however, remained unexplained between black and white female adolescents.
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