, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 1295–1320 | Cite as

Epidemiological Paradox or Immigrant Vulnerability? Obesity Among Young Children of Immigrants

  • Elizabeth H. BakerEmail author
  • Michael S. Rendall
  • Margaret M. Weden


According to the “immigrant epidemiological paradox,” immigrants and their children enjoy health advantages over their U.S.-born peers—advantages that diminish with greater acculturation. We investigated child obesity as a potentially significant deviation from this paradox for second-generation immigrant children. We evaluated two alternate measures of mother’s acculturation: age at arrival in the United States and English language proficiency. To obtain sufficient numbers of second-generation immigrant children, we pooled samples across two related, nationally representative surveys. Each included measured (not parent-reported) height and weight of kindergartners. We also estimated models that alternately included and excluded mother’s pre-pregnancy weight status as a predictor. Our findings are opposite to those predicted by the immigrant epidemiological paradox: children of U.S.-born mothers were less likely to be obese than otherwise similar children of foreign-born mothers; and the children of the least-acculturated immigrant mothers, as measured by low English language proficiency, were the most likely to be obese. Foreign-born mothers had lower (healthier) pre-pregnancy weight than U.S.-born mothers, and this was protective against their second-generation children’s obesity. This protection, however, was not sufficiently strong to outweigh factors associated or correlated with the mothers’ linguistic isolation and marginal status as immigrants.


Child obesity Acculturation Hispanic 



This work was supported by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant Nos. R01HD061967 and T32HD007329) and benefitted from the authors’ participation in the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) Envision Network. Helpful comments were also received at presentations of earlier versions of this work at the “National Children’s Study Symposium, Next Generation and Our Future: Health Disparities Among Children of Immigrants” in December 2011 and at the 2012 annual meeting of the Population Association of America.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth H. Baker
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Michael S. Rendall
    • 2
    • 3
  • Margaret M. Weden
    • 3
  1. 1.University of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  2. 2.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA

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