Original Paper

Journal of Community Health

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 94-110

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Dramatic Increases in Obesity and Overweight Prevalence and Body Mass Index Among Ethnic-Immigrant and Social Class Groups in the United States, 1976–2008

  • Gopal K. SinghAffiliated withUS Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau Email author 
  • , Mohammad SiahpushAffiliated withDepartment of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • , Robert A. HiattAffiliated withUCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California at San Francisco
  • , Lava R. TimsinaAffiliated withDepartment of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center


This study examined trends in US obesity and overweight prevalence and body mass index (BMI) among 30 immigrant groups, stratified by race/ethnicity and length of immigration, and among detailed education, occupation, and income/poverty groups from 1976 to 2008. Using 1976–2008 National Health Interview Surveys, differentials in obesity, overweight, and BMI, based on self-reported height and weight, were analyzed by using disparity indices, logistic, and linear regression. The obesity prevalence for the US population aged ≥18 tripled from 8.7% in 1976 to 27.4% in 2008. Overweight prevalence increased from 36.9% in 1976 to 62.0% in 2008. During 1991–2008, obesity prevalence for US-born adults increased from 13.9 to 28.7%, while prevalence for immigrants increased from 9.5 to 20.7%. While immigrants in each ethnic group and time period had lower obesity and overweight prevalence and BMI than the US-born, immigrants’ risk of obesity and overweight increased with increasing duration of residence. In 2003–2008, obesity prevalence ranged from 2.3% for recent Chinese immigrants to 31–39% for American Indians, US-born blacks, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans, and long-term Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants. Between 1976 and 2008, the obesity prevalence more than quadrupled for those with a college education or sales occupation. Although higher prevalence was observed for lower education, income, and occupation levels in each period, socioeconomic gradients in obesity and overweight decreased over time because of more rapid increases in prevalence among higher socioeconomic groups. Continued immigrant and socioeconomic disparities in prevalence will likely have substantial impacts on future obesity trends in the US.


Obesity Overweight Trend Immigrant status Ethnicity Socioeconomic status Acculturation Disparities Physical activity Diet United States