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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Food Environment’s Influence on Racial Disparities in Prevalence of Obesity Studied by UAB

“Racial disparities in obesity exist at the individual and community levels. Retail food environment has been hypothesized to be associated with racial disparities in obesity prevalence,” wrote Dr. Chelsea R. Singleton, former graduate research assistant in the department of epidemiology and Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and current post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Dr. Olivia Affuso, associate professor in UAB’s department of epidemiology, in collaboration with Dr. Bisakha Sen, professor in UAB’s department of health care organization and policy. “This study aimed to quantify how much food environment measures explain racial disparities in obesity at the county level.”


[Photo: Dr. Chelsea R. Singleton (above) and Dr. Olivia Affuso]

Using 2009-2010 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) pertaining to 3,135 US counties, the researchers utilized Oaxaca–Blinder decomposition to calculate the disparity in the prevalence of obesity among adults in counties with low versus high percentages of African-American residents. Of the 665 counties categorized as having a high African-American population (deemed to be over 13.1 percent within each county), the variance between high and low was determined to be 3.35 percentage points (32.98 percent versus 29.63 percent).

“Retail food environment [such as, easy access to grocery stores and pervasiveness of fast-food restaurants] explains a proportion of the gap in adult obesity prevalence observed between counties with a high proportion of African-American residents and counties with a low proportion of African-American residents,” observed the researchers.

“Decomposing Racial Disparities in Obesity Prevalence: Variations in Retail Food Environment” was published online in October in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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