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How does ethnicity affect obesity?

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics
Compared with whites, Blacks had 51% higher and Hispanics had 21% higher obesity rates. To reduce racial and ethnic disparities in obesity rates we must intensify our efforts to create an environment for healthy living.

At least three reasons may account for the racial and ethnic differences in obesity. First, racial and ethnic groups differ in behaviors that contribute to weight gain; second explanation may be differences in individual attitudes and cultural norms related to body weight. A third explanation may be differences in access to affordable, healthful foods and safe locations to be physically active; this limited access may negatively impact diet and physical activity levels.

The high prevalence of obesity across all the racial/ethnic groups highlights the importance of implementing effective intervention strategies among the general U.S. population. Given the significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence, it is also crucial to ensure that racial/ethnic groups with the greatest need benefit most from these intervention efforts and are engaged in helping identify effective strategies in their communities. To reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the prevalence of obesity, an effective public health response is needed that includes surveillance, policies, programs, and supportive environments achieved through the effort of government, communities, workplaces, schools, families, and individuals.

Rates of obesity tend to be highest in certain ethnicities and races. For example, African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders show higher percentages of obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans have the highest percentage of obesity at 44.1 percent. The obesity rate is 37.9 percent in Hispanics, and 32.6 percent in Caucasians. The reason for these racial and ethnic differences in obesity is still somewhat unknown.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.