DECEMBER 5, 2012 - Asian-American children have a lower risk for obesity than children from other racial and ethnic groups in the United States, according to a new manuscript co-authored by a Georgetown University faculty member.
However, previous research has not examined variations among children from different Asian countries, says the article, “Prevalence of Obesity Among Young Asian-American Children,” which appeared in the December issue of Childhood Obesity.
Epidemiologist Jennifer Huang Bouey, PhD, MPH, associate professor of international health at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, is among several co-authors of the article.
She says the article is a result of her interest in immigrant health and that she helped conceptualize the research question, highlight relevant data sources, and conduct data analysis.
“As the U.S. population grows, the percentage of children belonging to ethnic minorities is expected to increase disproportionately,” the article says. “In the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic with far-reaching implications for the nation’s health and economy, it is increasingly important to understand which children are at risk of becoming obese and suffering from its consequences during childhood and adulthood.”
The study noted several variations.
“The prevalence of obesity and overweight is high among Vietnamese-American young children, resembling rates seen in white children,” the article said. “Vietnamese-American children have more than triple the risk of obesity compared to Chinese-American children.”
In addition, “[this] study found that Asian-Indian children have the lowest prevalence of obesity and overweight and the highest rates of underweight. Asian-Indian and Chinese-American children have significantly lower rates of obesity and overweight compared to whites,” it noted.
How long a family has been in the United States also seems to impact obesity levels, the article said.
“Generational status was a strong predictor of risk of obesity,” the authors said. “Asian-American children seemed protected from becoming obese if their mothers were born outside the United States. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that maternal immigrant status can protect children from becoming obese even in the first few years of life irrespective of other important variables.”
The authors offered several conclusions.
“Our study shows that the loss of the immigrant’s protective shield against obesity may be beginning as young as the preschool age, underscoring the need for early family-based prevention efforts,” they said. “Furthermore, our results point to potential opportunities to study and adopt the healthful eating and activity practices of Chinese and Asian-Indian families in particular so that all American children, irrespective of race/ethnicity, may benefit.”
Anjali Jain, MD, managing consultant at the Lewin Group, is the paper’s lead and corresponding author.
By Bill Cessato