Maternal English Language Proficiency and Obesity among Young Children of Immigrants

Elizabeth H. Baker, RAND Corporation
Margaret M. Weden, RAND Corporation
Michael S. Rendall, University of Maryland and RAND Corporation

Across a range of physical health outcomes, children of immigrants, like their parents, enjoy “paradoxical” health advantages. We investigate obesity as a possible exception to this paradox. Separate and pooled-sample analyses of kindergarteners in two nationally representative surveys of U.S. children, the Early Child Longitudinal Study, Birth and Kindergarten cohorts were conducted. Children of U.S.-born and foreign-born mothers were compared. Comparisons were also made between children whose immigrant mothers differed according to two indicators of acculturation: arrival in the U.S. before age 13 and having a high level of English language proficiency. After controlling for socioeconomic status, maternal pre-pregnancy weight, and child’s birth weight, higher obesity was found among children of immigrant mothers than of U.S.-born mothers. Especially high obesity was found among the children of immigrant mothers with lower English proficiency. We interpret these findings as contrary to the immigrant health paradox and consistent with broader immigrant disadvantage.

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Presented in Session 64: Parental Influences on Childhood Obesity