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Ethnicity and childhood overweight/obesity in England


Address for correspondence: Miss V Higgins, Centre for Census & Survey Research, Humanities Bridgeford Street, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. E-mail:



Some studies suggest that British Afro-Caribbean girls and Pakistani girls have higher levels of obesity than girls in the general population of England. However, the interplay between child obesity, ethnicity, mother's socioeconomic status and other parental characteristics is unclear and requires exploration.


This study examines the relationship between child ethnicity and child overweight/obesity after controlling for a wide range of mothers′ socioeconomic characteristics and parental overweight/obesity.


Health Survey for England data (1999 and 2004) are used to examine 7047 children aged 2–15 years. Body mass index (BMI) for children is classified using the International Obesity Task Force age-specific BMI thresholds for obesity and overweight.


After controlling for a wide range of maternal socioeconomic characteristics and parental overweight/obesity, there are no ethnic differences in childhood overweight/obesity.


Having overweight or obese parents is a stronger predictor of childhood overweight/obesity than ethnic origin of the child. Interventions aimed at reducing childhood overweight/obesity should focus on parental characteristics rather than the ethnicity of the child, but they also need to be sensitive to gender and ethnic differences. Future research should aim to repeat the analyses using a measure of abdominal obesity such as waist circumference, if data become available.