Oakland, CA — The longer that immigrant women reside in the United States, the greater the chances that food insecurity will result in obesity, finds a new study by the Public Health Institute’s Suzanne Ryan-Ibarra published today in the Public Health Nutrition journal.

According to findings based on a large representative sample of women in California, among immigrant women who lived in the US for 10 years or longer very low food security was significantly associated with higher prevalence of overweight/obesity. Among immigrant women who had lived in the US for less than 10 years, low and very low food security were not significantly associated with obesity.

The study’s findings suggest that food insecurity may be an important pathway that may influence susceptibility to overweight/obesity as immigrant women live longer in the US. In the sample, 28% of all women in the study reported food insecurity (17% had low food security and 11% had very low food security). Notably, food insecure women were more likely to be immigrants, and immigrants born in Mexico comprised the largest group (33.6%) of all food insecure women.

Overall, the prevalence of obesity was highest among women with very low food security (43%), and second highest among women with low food security (35%). Food insecure women were also less likely to be married and to be more socioeconomically disadvantaged than food secure women.

Environmental health conditions like food insecurity have been linked to obesity in the past, and low-income immigrants are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods that have a lack of access to healthy food.

Limited availability of supermarkets in some poor and minority neighborhoods (where immigrants of low socioeconomic status are likely to live) may inhibit access to fruit, vegetables, and other nutrient rich foods. Decreased fruit and vegetable consumption and increased consumption of nutrient poor foods, such as refined grains, ground beef, and processed meats, ultimately can lead to higher BMI and obesity.

“The high cost per calorie of fruit, vegetables, and other healthy food may make these foods out of reach for low-income populations to purchase and consume regularly,” says Ryan-Ibarra. “To promote healthy weight among all women, programs and policies should focus on reducing food insecurity and increasing access to healthy food.”

Overweight and obesity prevention programs may be more effective at reducing overweight and obesity among women overall by addressing food insecurity among socioeconomically disadvantaged women, including recently immigrated women.

The study used cross-sectional, population-based data from the California Women’s Health Survey 2009-2012 and included 16,259 women ages 18 and older.

For more information contact: Ann Whidden, Director of Communications at the Public Health Institute at (415) 425-5157.

Complimentary access to the full paper until 28 December: ‘The relationship between food insecurity and overweight/obesity differs by birthplace and length of US residence‘, Suzanne Ryan-Ibarra, Emma V Sanchez-Vaznaugh, Cindy Leung and Marta Induni.


The Public Health Institute, an independent nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation and around the world. PHI’s primary methods for achieving these goals include: sharing evidence developed through quality research and evaluation; conducting public policy and advocacy; providing training and technical assistance; and promoting successful prevention strategies to policymakers, communities and individuals. For more information, visit www.phi.org.

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