Race, place, and obesity: the complex relationships among community racial/ethnic composition, individual race/ethnicity, and obesity in the United States

Am J Public Health. 2012 Aug;102(8):1572-8. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300452. Epub 2012 Jun 14.


Objectives: We explored the association between community racial/ethnic composition and obesity risk.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, we used nationally representative data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey linked to geographic data from the US Decennial Census and Census Business Pattern data.

Results: Living in communities with a high Hispanic concentration (≥ 25%) was associated with a 0.55 and 0.42 increase in body mass index (BMI; defined as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) and 21% and 23% higher odds for obesity for Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites, respectively. Living in a community with a high non-Hispanic Asian concentration (≥ 25%) was associated with a 0.68 decrease in BMI and 28% lower odds for obesity for non-Hispanic Whites. We controlled for individual- and community-level social, economic, and demographic variables.

Conclusions: Community racial/ethnic composition is an important correlate of obesity risk, but the relationship differs greatly by individual race/ethnicity. To better understand the obesity epidemic and related racial/ethnic disparities, more must be learned about community-level risk factors, especially how built environment and social norms operate within communities and across racial/ethnic groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group
  • Asian Americans
  • Body Mass Index
  • Continental Population Groups / ethnology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Ethnic Groups / ethnology*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology