The immigration and health paradox: Obesity in multiethnic young children

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The rising U.S. obesity prevalence has disproportionately affected minority children. Previous studies have reported that among African American U.S.-born participants, those with foreign-born parents were significantly less likely to be obese than individuals with U.S.-born parents. Little is known about the children of Hispanic immigrants from Central and South America, and among 2-5 year olds in particular. The current study examined demographic characteristics of 307 children ages 2-5 year olds who participated in a randomized controlled obesity prevention intervention trial in 8 childcare centers in Miami, Florida. Anthropometric data collected included weight, height, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI). Overweight was defined as > 95th %ile for age and at- risk-for-overweight was defined as > 85th to <95th percentile, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Obese children were significantly more likely to be born in the US than another country (P<0.0001). Girls were equally as likely as boys to be overweight; 31% of the sample has a BMI percentile > 85th %ile. Children of Central American immigrants were significantly more likely than their Cuban or Caribbean immigrant parent counterparts to be obese (p< 0.01). Obesity prevention interventions need to target children as young as preschool age and should be tailored to the child’s ethnic background, particularly if the child was born in the US and the parents were not.

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