Associations between socioeconomic status and obesity in diverse, young adolescents: variation across race/ethnicity and gender

Health Psychol. 2015 Jan;34(1):1-9. doi: 10.1037/hea0000099. Epub 2014 Aug 18.


Objective: This study examined the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity risk during early adolescence, ages 10-13 years, and whether this association is present in different racial/ethnic and gender groups during 2 time points in early adolescence.

Method: Data were from the Healthy Passages study, which enrolled 4,824 African American, Hispanic, and White 5th graders (ages 10-11) in a population-based, longitudinal study conducted in 3 U.S. metropolitan areas, and assessed them again 2 years later. Weight status was classified from measured body mass index using standard criteria into nonobese and obese (27% in 5th grade). SES was indexed based on highest education attainment in the household.

Results: Youth in the highest SES had a significantly lower prevalence of obesity than those of lower SES at both 5th and 7th grades when disregarding race/ethnicity. Within-racial/ethnic group analyses mostly confirmed this pattern for Hispanic and White youth, but not for African American youth. When also considering gender, the SES differential in obesity risk was more pronounced among White girls and 5th-grade Hispanic boys.

Conclusion: Growing up in a high SES home, marked by having a member with at least a college degree, is associated with lower risk for obesity among Hispanic and White youth. For African American youth, there appears to be no association between SES and obesity. Thus the health advantage generally attributed to higher SES does not appear consistently across racial/ethnic groups for obesity in youth. Further research should identify influences on weight status beyond SES, especially among African American youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pediatric Obesity / ethnology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Class*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*