Race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and obesity across the transition from adolescence to adulthood Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Lee, Melissa Scharoun
    • Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Nutrition
  • Although racial/ethnic minorities in the U.S. have higher rates of obesity than whites throughout the life course, these disparities increase dramatically during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, a period of complex changes in schooling, employment, residence and social roles. Minority adolescents have higher obesity at all levels of parental income and education, and further, these disparities widen at higher parental socioeconomic status (SES). Such findings provoked our desire to go beyond simple measures of parental SES to better capture important facets of SES exposure for obesity development in minorities, and to investigate whether the association between better conceptualized measures of SES and obesity truly differ by race/ethnicity, i.e. do racial/ethnic minorities receive fewer health benefits from higher SES? We explored these issues using a rich set of parental and young adult socioeconomic data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative, racial/ethnically-diverse study following U.S. adolescents with multiple interview waves into adulthood. Using factor analysis to identify SES dimensions of unique relevance to the young adult context, we found that the high status milieu of "social capital" was associated with reduced young adult obesity for white and Hispanic females only, while "schooling" reduced obesity risk in all females. We then used latent class analysis to characterize the heterogeneity of combinations of parental and young adult SES, revealing detailed subtypes of life course SES exposure to "disadvantage." Although we demonstrated important gender differences in the association of these SES exposure groups with longitudinal patterns of obesity across the transition to adulthood, these relationships did not differ substantially by race/ethnicity. Further, obesity trends remained higher in racial/ethnic minorities across life course SES groups, underscoring the need to identify social forces beyond SES that shape these disparities earlier in life. Overall, these findings highlight several dimensions of young adult SES that present opportunities for efforts to reduce racial/ethnic disparities in young adult obesity, as well as groupings of life course SES from the parent to young adult that may provide important avenues to reduce obesity for all racial/ethnic and gender groups during this complicated stage of the life course.
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  • In Copyright
  • Gordon-Larsen, Penny
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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