Gender and Education Affect Obesity Rates in Immigrants

A new study elucidates existing research that shows higher obesity rates in immigrants compared to native-born individuals. Co-authored by Professor Luisa Borrell (Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, The Graduate Center, CUNY), the study found that gender and education also factored into immigrant obesity rates. The findings are published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Spain has one of the highest rates of obesity in the European Union. Drawing data from adults in that country, Borrell and her co-authors discovered that the risk of obesity was still greater in immigrant women, but lower in immigrant men compared to their native-born counterparts. That difference may be related to the type of work each typically does. Immigrant men tend to work in jobs requiring manual labor, thereby reducing their risk of obesity, whereas immigrant women are more likely to work in domestic and care jobs, characterized by low income, long working hours, and high levels of stress — all of which can contribute to obesity.

When the authors looked at education levels, they found that immigrant women with higher levels of education were more obese compared to their native-born counterparts with high levels of education. This is counter to existing research that shows a higher level of education is correlated with lower rates of obesity. The authors theorized that highly-educated native-born women had more opportunities for better jobs, yet education did not help elevate immigrant women out of the high-risk domestic and care jobs.

Borrell said in an interview, “Despite the fact that immigrant women arrive with a high education, the job market for them in Spain and other European countries is as home attendants. We found that immigrant women with high education tend to have higher levels of obesity compared with their native counterparts.”  

She added, “Education doesn’t translate the same across different segments of the population, and this should be considered. The results may help the design of health promotion strategies and gender policies to reduce inequalities in obesity among immigrants.” 

Borrell also recently published studies examining the impact gentrification and immigration had on local residents’ health in a Madrid neighborhood, and the correlation between a lack of insurance and poor oral health in noncitizen immigrants in the U.S

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
“Obesity Inequalities According to Place of Birth: The Role of Education”

Work By
Luisa N. Borrell (Department Chair and Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“The role of education in obesity inequalities among immigrant and native populations in Spain” (SPH News)
“The Dentist Who Became an Epidemiologist” (GC News)

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