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Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 Mar;39(3):520-9. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2014.171. Epub 2014 Sep 15.

Race/ethnic disparities in early childhood BMI, obesity and overweight in the United Kingdom and United States.

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Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK.
Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
School of Social Sciences, The Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.



Racial/ethnic patterning in the risk of obesity and overweight has been observed in early childhood; however, little research has compared these disparities between the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) using detailed ethnic classifications. We use comparable nationally representative cohort studies to examine racial/ethnic disparities in mean body mass index (BMI) and in the odds of obesity/overweight in the UK and US. The contribution of sociodemographic, cultural and family routine factors are assessed.


Data on BMI, obesity and overweight in 5-year-old children from the MCS (Millennium Cohort Study) and ECLS-B (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort) were examined. We investigated race/ethnic disparities in mean BMI and in the odds of obesity and overweight, as compared to normal weight. We assessed the independent contribution of sociodemographic, cultural and family routine factors to observed disparities.


In the UK, after adjustment for sociodemographic, cultural and family routine factors and maternal BMI, we found Black Caribbean children to have higher odds ratio (OR=1.7, confidence interval (CI)=1.1-2.6), Pakistani children to have lower odds of obesity (OR=0.60, CI=0.37-0.96) and Black African children were more likely to be overweight (OR=1.40, CI=1.04-1.88). In the US, in fully adjusted models, there were no race/ethnic disparities in children's odds of obesity and overweight.


Disparities for Bangladeshi children in the UK and Mexican, other Hispanic and American Indian children in the US can be explained by socioeconomic disadvantage, whereas a range of cultural and family characteristics partially explain disparities for other groups in the UK. Future public health initiatives focused on reducing risk of overweight and obesity should consider the diverse socioeconomic and cultural profiles of all race/ethnic groups.

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