Associations Between Socioeconomic Status and Obesity in Diverse, Young Adolescents

Variation Across Race/Ethnicity and Gender

Published in: Health Psychology, v. 34, no. 1, Jan. 2015, p. 1-9

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Chris Fradkin, Jan Wallander, Marc N. Elliott, Susan R. Tortolero, Paula Cuccaro, Mark A. Schuster

Read More

Access further information on this document at Health Psychology

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Research Question

  1. What is the association between socioeconomic status and obesity risk among adolescents of different races, ethnicities, and genders?

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.

Key Finding

  • Hispanic and White youth from households with a four-year college degree have a significantly lower risk for obesity as measured in 5th and 7th grades.

Recommendations

Target obesity intervention in particular to households without a four-year college degree among White and Hispanic youth.

Improve youth obesity interventions for low health-literacy households.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.