Disparities in Obesity

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults suffer from obesity. However, not all segments of the population are affected equally.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities

According to a special report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, while obesity rates have increased among all ethnic and racial groups, some groups are affected more than others.

For example, among U.S. adults, those classified by the report as Black and Latino populations were found to have substantially higher rates of obesity than do those populations classified as White. This was true for both men and women in these ethnic and racial groups.

Specifically, for the time period 2011 to 2012, the rate of obesity for all U.S. adults was 34.9%. However, the rate among Black adults was 47.8%, and among Latino adults it was 42.5%. Among White adults, the rate was 32.6%.

These disparities extended to childhood obesity rates as well, which were higher among Black and Latino children than among White children.

Reasons for Disparity

The report puts forth analyses as well as strategies for preventing obesity that are specific to each racial and ethnic community. For Black communities, the report authors note that “disparate access to affordable healthy food and safe places to be physically active contribute to higher rates of obesity and related illnesses in Black communities in America.”

In Latino communities, the report notes “high rates of hunger and food insecurity” as well as “limited access to safe places for physical activity.” Latino communities also experience “inequities in access to healthcare.”

The report further notes that “inequities in a range of factors—income, stable and affordable housing, access to quality education and others—all influence a person’s chance to live a longer, healthier life.”

The Importance of Neighborhood Walkability

Living in a neighborhood where it is safe to engage in outdoor physical activity is important in treating and preventing obesity. Several studies have now found that neighborhood walkability is associated with lower rates of overweight and obesity as compared to the same rates in neighborhoods that are more dependent on cars for transportation.

“Neighborhood walkability” refers to how likely it is that you are able to walk to local shops, schools, and parks in your own neighborhood.

Can you walk to the grocery store from where you live, or do you have to get in your car to get to the store?

What are known as active modes of travel—walking or cycling, for example—have greater potential health benefits than driving a car, and greater potential to prevent obesity.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Facts. Accessed online at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html  on December 28, 2015.

The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America. Special report: racial and ethnic disparities in obesity. Accessed online at http://stateofobesity.org/disparities/ on December 28, 2015.

Flint E, Cummins S, Sacker A. Associations between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom. BMJ 2014;349:g4887.

Chiu M, Shah BR, Maclagan LC, et al. Walk Score and the prevalence of utilitarian walking and obesity among Ontario adults: a cross-sectional study. Health Rep 2015;26:3-10.

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