, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 1429–1450 | Cite as

Explaining the Female Black-White Obesity Gap: A Decomposition Analysis of Proximal Causes

  • David W. Johnston
  • Wang-Sheng Lee


There exist remarkably large differences in body weights and obesity prevalence between black and white women in the United States; and crucially, these differences are a significant contributor to black-white inequalities in health. In this article, we investigate the most proximal explanations for the weight gap: namely, differences in diet and exercise. More specifically, we decompose black-white differences in body mass index and waist-to-height ratio into components reflecting black-white differences in energy intake and energy expenditure. The analysis indicates that overconsumption is much more important than a lack of exercise in explaining the weight gap, which suggests that diet interventions will have to play a fundamental role if the weight gap between black and white women is to decline.


Obesity Decomposition 



We thank Richard Burkhauser and Deborah Cobb-Clark for valuable comments and discussions. We are also grateful to two anonymous referees for useful suggestions that helped improve the paper and also to participants at the 2009 Australian Health Economics Conference for comments. All errors are our own.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Health EconomicsMonash UniversityVictoriaAustralia
  2. 2.School of Economics, Finance and MarketingRMIT UniversityVictoriaAustralia

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