Pathways to ethnic differences in obesity: The role of migration, culture and socio-economic position in the UK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previous research has identified ethnic differences in abdominal obesity but has not fully explored the pathways that explain these ethnic differences, which may relate to individual and contextual characteristics. This research identifies ethnic differences in waist circumference for eight ethnic groups in England, before and after accounting for a range of individual-level and area-level factors. Three key pathways to obesity are explored: migration status, cultural characteristics, and socio-economic characteristics.

Data come from four years of the Health Survey for England (1998, 1999, 2003 and 2004) and linked area-level data from the 2001 Census. The total sample size is 27,946. Multi-level modelling methods are used to account for individual-level and area-level factors.

The results show that migration status has a strong association with ethnic differences in waist circumference – in particular, waist circumference increases with length of time since migration to the UK. Cultural characteristics and socio-economic characteristics are also associated with ethnic differences in waist circumference, but not to the same extent as migration status. The strong association between migration status and waist circumference is partly attenuated by cultural characteristics and partly by socio-economic inequality. However, there is still a strong association between migrant status and waist circumference that remains unexplained.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Journal SSM - Population Health
Early online date11 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019