Using the Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition as an empirical tool to analyze racial disparities in obesity

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Jul;22(7):1750-5. doi: 10.1002/oby.20755. Epub 2014 Apr 15.


Objective: Racial disparities in obesity in the US are often assumed to reflect racial disparities in socio-economic status, diet and physical-activity. We present an econometric method that helps examine this by "decomposing" the racial gap in body-mass index (BMI) into how much can be explained by racial differences in "standard" predictors of BMI, and how much remains unexplained.

Methods: The Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition is widely used in other fields, but remains under-utilized in the obesity literature. We provide algebraic and graphical illustrations of the decomposition, and further illustrate it with an example using data for white and black respondents in Mississippi and Alabama. BMI is the outcome of interest. Predictor variables include income, education, age, marital status, children, mental health indicators, diet and exercise.

Results: The mean predicted gap in BMI between white and black men is small, statistically insignificant, and can be attributed to racial differences in the predictor variables. The mean predicted gap for women is larger, statistically significant, and <10% of it can be explained by differences in predictor variables. Implications of the findings are discussed.

Conclusion: Wider application of this method is advocated in the obesity literature, to better understand racial disparities in obesity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Alabama
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Computer Graphics
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Middle Aged
  • Mississippi
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult