Women's beliefs about what causes obesity: variation by race/ethnicity and acculturation in a Washington State sample

Ethn Health. 2020 Feb;25(2):243-254. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2017.1414156. Epub 2017 Dec 15.


Objective: Individuals' beliefs about the causes of multifactorial health conditions (causal attributions) shape how they conceptualize and respond to health threats and are therefore important for health promotion. Studies of racial/ethnic and cultural variation in obesity causal beliefs, however, are scarce. To address this gap, this study described beliefs about the underlying causes of obesity (genetic inheritance, diet, and physical activity) in Hispanic and non-Hispanic White women participating in a longitudinal cohort study in South King County, Washington State (n = 1,002).Design: Analysis of baseline survey data. Self-reported obesity causal beliefs were compared by race/ethnicity and acculturation indicators (survey language and nativity) using marginal effect estimates generated from multinomial logistic regression models.Results: Hispanic women had a higher probability of not believing 'at all' in inheritance and physical activity as causes of obesity - an absolute increase of 33% and 5% over non-Hispanic White women, respectively. Both acculturation indicators were also associated with a higher probability of not believing 'at all' in inheritance as a cause of obesity, though Hispanic women who completed the survey in English and were born in the United States had genetic causal beliefs similar to non-Hispanic White women. Behavioral attributions did not vary by acculturation indicators in Hispanic women.Conclusions: Differences in obesity casual beliefs, particularly genetic attributions, exist and may be important for developing and delivering effective obesity-related health promotion interventions. Identifying the determinants and public health consequences of cultural variation in obesity attributions should be the focus of future research.

Keywords: Hispanic; USA; acculturation; genetic attributions; health promotion; obesity causal beliefs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation*
  • Adult
  • Culture*
  • Diet*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Washington