Race/ethnicity, nativity and trends in BMI among U.S. adults

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Jul;22(7):1739-46. doi: 10.1002/oby.20744. Epub 2014 Apr 23.


Objective: The average BMI is rising even as the U.S. population grows increasingly diverse. Prior research by examining BMI trends in diverse groups including whites, blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans who are U.S. born, recent immigrants, or long-term immigrants was extended.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from the 1989 to 2011 waves of the National Health Interview Survey (N = 989,273) have been pooled and linear regression models to examine trends in BMI among U.S. adults have been used.

Results: Annual increases in BMI are greatest among U.S.-born Puerto Ricans and Mexicans and slowest among foreign born Chinese. Among the U.S. born in 2011, Chinese adults have an average BMI below the threshold for overweight, whereas blacks, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans have average BMIs in the obese range. Foreign-born adults average lower BMIs than U.S. born adults in most race/ethnic groups, and nativity disparities generally widen over time. BMI increases across calendar periods rather than birth cohorts.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that calendar period interventions may be particularly useful in reversing rising BMIs in the United States. However, interventions must be tailored to different race/ethnic and nativity groups in order to reduce disparities in body mass.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Overweight / ethnology
  • United States
  • Young Adult