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Understanding Obesity and Diabetes in Foreign-Born Blacks

Calculating the health of foreign-born blacks (FBBs) — who typically arrive in the U.S. from Africa or the Caribbean — can be difficult because they’re often classified alongside U.S.-born blacks (USBBs), even though each group has different health profiles.

A group of scholars from across CUNY, including the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, Hunter College, and Brooklyn College, sought to understand the rate of obesity and diabetes among FBBs compared to their American counterparts. It marks the first such study, and the results were published in Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.

The researchers examined data from five years of the NYC Community Health Survey (CHS) to find “the relationship between nativity, obesity and diabetes in Black population groups in NYC.” They then culled information from NYC’s Department of Health, which provided an anonymous data set detailing sample weights among the city’s population.

Although FBBs were less likely to be obese than USBBs, they were more likely to be overweight.  (Both conditions mean you weigh more than what’s considered healthy for your height, but people who are overweight are 10 to 20 percent heavier than they should be, while those who are obese weigh 20 percent or more than they should.)

The researchers also found that FBB women were twice as likely to be obese as FBB men, and being married or living with a partner increased the odds for obesity.

Curiously, FBBs showed higher rates of diabetes than USBBs even while their rates of obesity remained lower. The odds of diabetes in both groups became significantly higher if they reported their income as being lower than $20,000 a year.

If it seems like living in the U.S. would account for that spike in diabetes, the researchers didn’t find a correlation. But they did when it came to the number of FBBs who are overweight. “[T]he effects of globalization, nutrition transition and ‘remote acculturation’ may contribute to increasing BMI in populations living in both Africa and the Caribbean prior to immigration to the US,” the researchers wrote. BMI refers to body-mass index, a standard way to calculate whether someone is overweight based on height and weight. 

Margrethe F. Horlyck-Romanovsky, a recent doctoral graduate from SPH, and Professor Terry T.-K Huang led the study, which included Professors Katarzyna Wyka and Sandra E. Echeverria (SPH), Professor May May Leung (Hunter College), and Professor Melissa Fuster Rivera (Brooklyn College).

Beyond SUM

Work By

Terry T-K Huang (Professor, Health Policy and Management) | Profile 1
Katarzyna Wyka (Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics) | Profile 1
May May Leung (Assistant Professor, Nutrition) | Profile 1
Melissa Fuster Rivera (Assistant Professor, Health and Nutrition Sciences) | Profile 1