The role of country of birth, and genetic and self-identified ancestry, in obesity susceptibility among African and Hispanic Americans

Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Jul 1;110(1):16-23. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz098.


Background: African Americans (AAs) and Hispanic/Latinos (HLs) have higher risk of obesity than European Americans, possibly due to differences in environment and lifestyle, but also reflecting differences in genetic background.

Objective: To gain insight into factors contributing to BMI (in kg/m2) and obesity risk (BMI ≥ 30) among ancestry groups, we investigate the role of self-reported ancestry, proportion of genetic African ancestry, and country of birth in 6368 self-identified AA and 7569 HL participants of the New York-based BioMe Biobank.

Methods: AAs and HLs are admixed populations that trace their genetic ancestry to the Americas, Africa, and Europe. The proportion of African ancestry (PAA), quantified using ADMIXTURE, was higher among self-reported AA (median: 87%; IQR: 79-92%) than among HL (26%; 15-41%) participants. Approximately 18% of AA and 59% of HL participants were non-US-born.

Results: Because of significant differences between sexes (PPAA*sex interaction = 4.8 × 10-22), we considered women and men separately. Among women, country of birth and genetic ancestry contributed independently to BMI. US-born women had a BMI 1.99 higher than those born abroad (P = 7.7 × 10-25). Every 10% increase in PAA was associated with a BMI 0.29 higher (P = 7.1 × 10-10). After accounting for PAA and country of birth, the contribution of self-reported ancestry was small (P = 0.046). The contribution of PAA to higher BMI was significantly more pronounced among US-born (0.35/10%PAA, P = 0.003) than among non-US-born (0.26/10%PAA, P = 0.01) women (PPAA*sex interaction = 0.004). In contrast, among men, only US-born status influenced BMI. US-born men had a BMI 1.33 higher than non-US-born men, whereas PAA and self-reported ancestry were not associated with BMI. Associations with obesity risk were similar to those observed for BMI.

Conclusions: Being US-born is associated with a substantially higher BMI and risk of obesity in both men and women. Genetic ancestry, but not self-reported ancestry, is associated with obesity susceptibility, but only among US-born women in this New York-based population.

Keywords: BMI; admixture; country of birth; genetic ancestry; obesity; self-reported ancestry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Black People / genetics
  • Black or African American / genetics*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genotyping Techniques
  • Hispanic or Latino / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Racial Groups / genetics*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / ethnology
  • White People / genetics