Variation in child body mass index patterns by race/ethnicity and maternal nativity status in the United States and England

Melissa L Martinson, Sara McLanahan, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
Maternal and Child Health Journal 2015, 19 (2): 373-80
This paper examines body mass index (BMI) trajectories among children from different race/ethnic and maternal nativity backgrounds in the United States and England from early- to middle-childhood. This study is the first to examine race/ethnic and maternal nativity differences in BMI trajectories in both countries. We use two longitudinal birth cohort studies-The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (n = 3,285) for the United States and the Millennium Cohort Study (n = 6,700) for England to estimate trajectories in child BMI by race/ethnicity and maternal nativity status using multilevel growth models. In the United States our sample includes white, black, and Hispanic children; in England the sample includes white, black, and Asian children. We find significant race/ethnic differences in the initial BMI and BMI trajectories of children in both countries, with all non-white groups having significantly steeper BMI growth trajectories than whites. Nativity differences in BMI trajectories vary by race/ethnic group and are only statistically significantly higher for children of foreign-born blacks in England. Disparities in BMI trajectories are pervasive in the United States and England, despite lower overall BMI among English children. Future studies should consider both race/ethnicity and maternal nativity status subgroups when examining disparities in BMI in the United States and England. Differences in BMI are apparent in early childhood, which suggests that interventions targeting pre-school age children may be most effective at stemming childhood disparities in BMI.


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