Obesity and Race in the U.S.

In 2011, little was known about differences in body dissatisfaction experienced by people of different ethnicities. Research in the United States suggested that among African-American girls, extra weight eroded self-esteem much less than in their white counterparts. Over in England, responding to an East London study, overweight black girls in the same age group enjoyed the same confidence.

In the following year, researchers from the University of Southern California and Oxford University discovered that countries that allow high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their food have 20 percent more type 2 diabetes, unconnected with total sugar intake or obesity levels. Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, one of the study’s co-authors, theorized that the human metabolism has not evolved enough to process HFCS in the enormous quantities that people now consume.

Journalist Leslie Ridgeway noted,

Growing evidence reveals that the body metabolizes fructose differently from glucose. Among other things, fructose metabolism occurs independently of insulin, primarily in the liver where it may be readily converted to fat, which likely contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition on the rise in Hispanics in the U.S. and Mexico.

A team from Boston’s MassGeneral Hospital for Children examined factors during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood to see if they (rather than, for instance, pure genetics) might explain racial and ethnic differences in obesity rates. The large subject pool included 1,116 mother and child pairs (63 percent white, 17 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic).

Early life risk factors during pregnancy include gestational diabetes and maternal depression. In infancy, rapid weight gain is a red flag, and babies fare best with exclusive breastfeeding and when parents hold off on adding solid foods. In early childhood, less than a 12-hour sleep period is considered a risk factor, and so is the presence of a television in a kid’s room. Also, any intake of sugar-sweetened beverages or fast food. Yes, any. The researchers found that:

Many early life risk factors for childhood obesity are more prevalent among blacks and Hispanics than among whites and may explain the higher prevalence of obesity among racial/ethnic minority children…

We found that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among black and Hispanic children at age 7 years was almost double that of white children. […] Our findings suggest that racial/ethnic disparities in childhood obesity may be explained by factors operating in infancy and early childhood and that eliminating these factors could eliminate the disparities in childhood obesity.

The researchers found that while only 6 percent of white children had TV sets in their bedrooms, more than half of the black and Hispanic children did. Sixty-five percent of the white children had been given fast foods by the time they were three years old. For the black and Hispanic toddlers, that number was 80 percent. These and other risk factors are definitely modifiable, so professionals should look toward finding ways to do that.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity and mental health — National Obesity Observatory,” NationalArchives.gov.uk, ‎March 2011
Source: “USC, Oxford researchers find high fructose corn syrup — global prevalence of diabetes link,” EurekAlert.org, 11/27/12
Source: “Early life risk factors and racial/ethnic disparities in childhood obesity,” ScienceCodex.com, 06/03/13
Source: “Obese Kids: Race May Be Marker for Early Risks,” MedPageToday.com, 06/03/13
Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys on Visualhunt/CC BY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources