Understanding the Socioeconomic Determinants of Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Obesity Using a Life Course Perspective

Jennifer A. Ailshire, University of Michigan

Adult obesity is a major public health concern in the United States given the positive association between obesity and a number of chronic diseases. Of equal importance are the stark social inequalities in obesity. Among women, blacks and Hispanics have a much higher risk of obesity compared to whites. This paper uses the 1995 Study of Midlife in United States to examine the extent to which socioeconomic status (SES) across the life course accounts for obesity disparities. Results show that early-life SES is negatively associated with adult obesity, net of adult factors, but that some of this effect operates via adult characteristics. Early-life SES accounts for some of the racial/ethnic gap in obesity. The gap is completely accounted for by adult SES, health behaviors and family structure, factors that are themselves a product of early life conditions. Thus, early-life may be an important point of intervention to reduce population obesity.

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Presented in Session 12: Life Course Perspectives on Aging