Ethnic minority health, health disparities, physical activity, obesity, immigration, dietary habits


Objectives The objective of this research study was to examine the relationship between BMI, physical activity, dietary habits, and student demographic factors (age, ethnicity, income, immigration, and sex). Given the association between overweight and obesity and the inequitable burden of chronic health conditions among ethnic minority populations, a deeper understanding of the socioeconomic, gender, age, and racial/ethnic variation in BMI, physical activity, and dietary habits is needed. The shifting demographics of urban college populations make urban college campuses an important setting for addressing the lifetime health needs of ethnically diverse urban populations.

Methods In this cross-sectional non-experimental study, we used validated self-report questionnaires to survey 1,184 students about their dietary habits, physical activity, and BMI. Measures included self-reported dietary habits, physical activity, BMI and demographics (age, ethnicity, income, immigrant status, and sex).

Results Hispanics and Non-Hispanic Blacks were more likely to be at higher risk for increased BMI, less weekly hours of physical activity, and more unhealthy dietary habits. Female students were at a higher risk of less weekly physical activity. Older age was associated with increased BMI and more healthy dietary habits. Students attending colleges with a predominantly Hispanic student population (Campus B) and a predominantly Black student population (Campus C) had significantly higher BMIs than those attending an ethnically diverse college (Campus A). Immigrants had a lower average BMI and reported consuming less unhealthy foods than non-immigrants. In addition, immigrants from Europe and Asia had a lower BMI and engaged in more healthy dietary habits when compared to immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, and Central and South America.

Conclusions Researchers, health interventionists, and college health professionals should continue to target and tailor interventions for all college students with an emphasis on non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and other students at risk for ill health associated with BMI, physical inactivity, and poor dietary habits. In addition, interventions should be targeted to help immigrant students maintain health practices that may be protective.