Study: Mexican-American youth add pounds as they lose native eating habits

February 14, 2012, University of South Carolina

(Medical Xpress) -- A University of South Carolina study shows that Mexican-American youth gain pounds as they move away from the dietary habits of their native country, a move that is putting them at risk for serious health problems.

According to the research, conducted by a team in the Arnold School of Public Health and published in the February issue of the , Mexican-American youth born into second- and third-generation families are more likely to be obese than those who were not born in the United States.

“Mexican-American children are disproportionately affected by obesity,” said Dr. Jihong Liu, the lead author of the paper. “This has serious public health consequences because Mexican Americans are the fastest growing segment of the population. They are a very important population to study.”

Few studies have examined the impact of both immigration and a child’s acculturation on obesity, she said. “Most are focused on adults, who are at increased risk for obesity with each generation.”

Second-generation Mexican Americans were 2.5 times as likely to be obese as their first-generation peers; third-generation Mexican Americans were two times more likely to be obese.

Researchers looked at data from nearly 2,300 Mexican-American youth between the ages of 12 and 19 who participated in the 1999 – 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey NHANES). The survey measures height and weight of participants, as well as factors that gauge acculturation, including nativity for parents and the child and a child’s language preference, such as reading, thinking and speaking in a particular language at home, with family members or friends.

The study found that 63 percent of the participants spoke some English; 21.5 percent spoke only English, and 16 percent spoke little English. Nearly 73 percent of the youth were second- or third- generation Mexican American.

According to the study, adolescents from second and third generations have diets high in saturated fat and sodium, and they consume high levels of sweetened beverages. Their consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and beans was lower than first-generation Mexican-American youth.

A typical Mexican diet includes corn, beans, meat such as pork and fish, fruits, including pineapple and papaya and vegetables such as squash and avocado.

“Our findings suggest that Mexican-American adolescents face challenges in terms of poorer diet and excessive weight gain associated with their immigration and acculturation experience,” said Liu, a researcher in the Arnold School’s department of epidemiology and biostatistics. “This verified what we expected: the greater the acculturation that a young person has experienced, the less healthy their diet.”

The implication of the study is that young people who are more likely to be acculturated need help and support to maintain a healthy diet, she said.

Although the study did not address the causes, Liu said many immigrant families have a lower socioeconomic status and therefore cannot afford to buy fruits and vegetables and healthier foods, which are more expensive.

“Our findings also suggest that policies and programs should be in place to help immigrants protect their traditional dietary practices such as a high consumption of fruit, vegetables, and bread while they assimilate to the American culture and society,” Liu said. “Future studies should continue to examine the barriers that Mexican-American adolescents encounter in maintaining their native diet and identify strategies to address those barriers.”

Explore further: Obese Mexican-Americans lack diet, exercise advice from doctors

Related Stories

Obese Mexican-Americans lack diet, exercise advice from doctors

July 1, 2011
Only half of obese Mexican-American adults receive diet and exercise advice from their physicians, although obesity is on the rise for this group.

Family support motivates Mexican-Americans to adopt healthy habits

January 6, 2012
Encouragement from family members helps motivate Mexican-American adults to eat more fruits and vegetables and to engage in regular exercise, according to a new study in the current issue of American Journal of Health Promotion.  ...

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.