American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Children’s Body Mass Index: Diminished Returns of Parental Education and Family Income

Shervin Assari


Background: High socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with several health-related outcomes, such as obesity and body mass index (BMI). However, we do not know whether SES is associated differently with children’s BMI from American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AIAN/NHPI) families when compared to non-Hispanic White (NHW) families. Aim: To compare AIAN/NHPI and NHW families for associations between parental education, family income, and children’s BMI in the United States (U.S). Methods: This cross-sectional study used the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. Participants (n = 8580) included 63 AIAN/NHPI and 8517 NHW children between ages 9 and 10. The independent variables were parental education and family income. The primary outcome was BMI. Race was the moderator. Age, sex, and family structure were covariates. Mixed-effects regression models were used for data analysis. Results: In the pooled sample, higher parental education and family income were associated with lower children’s BMI. We found interactions between race and parental education and family income indicating weaker associations between parental education and family income and children’s BMI in AIAN/NHPI families than in NHW families. Conclusion: The salience of parental education and family income as social determinants of children’s BMI is diminished for AIAN/NHPI families than NHW families. As a result, AIAN/NHPIs children with high SES remain at risk for high BMI, while high-SES NHW children show the lowest BMI. Future research should test if obesogenic environments, food options, and physical activity-friendly neighborhoods can explain higher-than-expected BMI in high-SES AIAN/NHPI children. In other terms, more research is needed to understand if residential segregation, discrimination, and historical trauma explain the observed differences in the social patterning of childhood BMI in AIAN/NHPI and NHW communities.

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