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Topics in Minority Health Prevalence of Overweight for Hispanics -- United States, 1982-1984

Since 1960, CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has been conducting health and nutrition examination surveys for national, regional, and target populations. In 1982-1984, the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HHANES) obtained health and nutrition data on the three largest Hispanic subgroups in the United States: 1) Mexican Americans in selected counties in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas; 2) Cuban Americans in Dade County (Miami), Florida; and 3) Puerto Ricans in the New York City area, including parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (1,2). These three subgroups constituted approximately 76% of the 1980 Hispanic population in the United States. This report presents selected findings for height, weight, and overweight by age, sex, and Hispanic origin.

"Overweight" was defined as body mass index (BMI) (weight in kg divided by height in m2) equal to or greater than the 85th percentile of men or women aged 20-29 years from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES II), conducted in 1976-1980 (3). "Severe overweight" was defined as a BMI equal to or greater than the 95th percentile from NHANES II. Men were categorized as "overweight" if BMI was greater than or equal to 27.8 and "severely overweight" if BMI was greater than or equal to 31.1. For women, BMI cutoff points were 27.3 and 32.2, respectively.

The HHANES found that:-- Approximately 30% of Mexican-American men, 29% of Cuban-American men, and 25% of Puerto Rican men were overweight (Figure 1). Approximately 39% of Mexican-American women, 34% of Cuban-American women, and 37% of Puerto Rican women were overweight (Figure 2). For both men and women, prevalences varied by age group.

  • Approximately 10% of Mexican-American men, 11% of Cuban-American men, and 8% of Puerto Rican men were severely overweight (Table 1).

  • Approximately 16% of Mexican-American women, 8% of Cuban-American women, and 14% of Puerto Rican women were severely overweight (Table 1).

  • Mean weights for Mexican-American, Cuban-American, and Puerto Rican men aged 18-74 years were 166.0, 167.9, and 163.2 pounds, respectively; for women, mean weights were 144.4, 140.4, and 141.7 pounds, respectively (Table 2).

  • Mean heights for Mexican-American men and women aged 18-74 years were 67.1 and 61.8 inches; for Cuban Americans, 67.4 and 61.8 inches; and for Puerto Ricans, 67.0 and 61.8 inches, respectively (Table 2). Reported by: Div of Health Examination Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics; Div of Nutrition, Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.

    Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The estimated prevalences of overweight reported for Hispanic Americans were, in general, substantially higher than those reported for non-Hispanic Americans aged 20-74 years (4). For non-Hispanic men, the prevalence of overweight in 1976-1980 was 24% in whites and 26% in blacks, or approximately 4-5 percentage points lower than the prevalence in Hispanic-American men (4). For non-Hispanic women, the prevalence of overweight in whites was 25%--approximately 10-15 percentage points lower than in Hispanic-American women. For black women, however, the prevalence of overweight (44%) was slightly higher than in Hispanic-American women. The prevalence of severe overweight reflected a similar ethnicity-specific pattern--only black women had a substantially higher prevalence (19%) of severe overweight than Hispanic-American women. Most persons gain weight as they age, at least through middle age; therefore, the high prevalence of overweight among Hispanic-American adults aged 20-24, especially among women, is of particular concern.

Overweight is an established risk factor for non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Because of a higher prevalence of overweight, Mexican Americans are at twofold to fourfold higher risk for developing NIDDM than are non-Hispanic white Americans (5). In addition, the average age of diagnosis of NIDDM in Mexican Americans is several years younger than in non-Hispanic white Americans (5), perhaps reflecting a longer duration of overweight in Mexican Americans than in non-Hispanic white Americans.

Several approaches can be used to treat obesity (6,7). For example, the Michigan Health Council has published detailed guidelines for weight-loss programs for adults. These guidelines and experience in the treatment of obesity suggest that dietary modification and regular exercise, such as walking, can improve and help maintain weight loss (6,7). Although more research is needed on the primary prevention of obesity, younger persons may also benefit from efforts aimed at preventing obesity, such as weight-loss programs for overweight adolescents (8). Recent studies of the treatment of adolescent obesity suggest that the most effective interventions for long-term weight changes in adolescents include counseling both the parents and the child and emphasizing small but successive changes in diet and exercise (9).


  1. NCHS. 1985 Plan and operation of the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1982-84. Vital Health Stat 1985;1(19); DHHS publication no. (PHS)85-1321.

  2. NCHS, M Najjar, R Kuczmarski. Anthropometric data and prevalence of overweight for Hispanics: 1982-84. Vital Health Stat 1989;11(239); DHHS publication no. (PHS)89-1689.

  3. NCHS, Najjar MF, Rowland M. Anthropometric reference data and prevalence of overweight, United States, 1976-80. Vital Health Stat 1987;11(238); DHHS publication no. (PHS)87-1688.

  4. Life Sciences Research Office, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Nutrition monitoring in the United States--an update report on nutrition monitoring. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture/US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1989; DHHS publication no. (PHS)89-1255.

  5. Raymond CA. Diabetes in Mexican-Americans: pressing problem in a growing population. JAMA 1988;259:1772.

  6. Council on Scientific Affairs. Treatment of obesity in adults. JAMA 1988;260:2547-51.

  7. Michigan Health Council. Toward safe weight loss: recommended interim guidelines for adult weight loss programs in Michigan. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Health Council, 1988.

  8. Mellin LM. Adolescent obesity. J Dent Children 1988;(Jan-Feb):64-7.

  9. Mellin LM, Slinkard LA, Irwin CE. Adolescent obesity intervention: validation of the SHAPEDOWN Program. J Am Diet Assoc 1987;87:333-8.

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