Rapid Weight Gain in Pediatric Refugees after US Immigration


Prior studies of immigrants to the United States show significant weight gain after 10 years of US residence. Pediatric refugees are a vulnerable population whose post-immigration weight trajectory has not been studied. We examined the longitudinal weight trajectory of 1067 pediatric refugees seen in a single university based refugee health program between the dates of September 3, 2012 and September 3, 2014 to determine how quickly significant weight gain occurs post-arrival. The most recent BMI was abstracted from the electronic health record and charts reviewed to obtain serial BMI measurements in 3 year increments after the date of US arrival. The mean arrival BMI percentile for all refugees was 47th percentile. This increased significantly to the 63rd percentile within 3 years of US arrival (p < 0.01). This rapid increase was largely attributable to African and South and Southeast Asian refugees. The overall prevalence of age and sex adjusted obesity rose from 7.4 % at arrival to 18.3 % within 9 years of US immigration exceeding the pediatric US national obesity prevalence of 16.9 %. Pediatric refugees are at increased risk of rapid weight gain after US immigration. Targeted interventions focused on prevention of weight gain in specific populations are warranted.

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We would like to thank Mary Ann Meeker, Alyson Weiner MD, Nicole Sanders MD, Sarah Evans MD and Susan Mahar PNP for their assistance in data collection and clinical care of patients in the Pediatric International Health Clinic.

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Correspondence to Brad G. Olson.

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Olson, B.G., Kurland, Y., Rosenbaum, P.F. et al. Rapid Weight Gain in Pediatric Refugees after US Immigration. J Immigrant Minority Health 19, 263–266 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10903-016-0461-8

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  • Obesity
  • Refugee
  • BMI
  • Weight gain
  • Pediatric