Background

Individual-, family-, and societal-level factors can simultaneously and interactively affect a child’s body mass index (BMI). The current analysis focuses on parental nativity as a determinant of changes in children’s BMI over time. Research so far has been inconclusive on the role of parental nativity in children’s weight outcomes.

Methods

A sample of households with children residing in four low-income, high minority New Jersey cities provided data on demographics, socioeconomic status, health and anthropometric measures, as well as food consumption and physical activity (PA) behaviors for one randomly selected child (n = 449). The baseline interview took place in 2009/10 (panel 1) and 2014 (panel 2), with a follow-up interview after 2-5 years. Data were also gathered on food and physical activity environment around each household’s home. The outcome variable, change in BMI z-score, was divided into three categories (Negative change; Little or no change; Positive change) and analyzed through ordinal logistic regression.

Results

29% of the children in the sample had a foreign-born parent. Within each racial/ethnic group, having a foreign-born parent was associated with a more favorable change in BMI, meaning that children whose parent was foreign-born were more likely to have the same or lower BMI z-score at time 2. Multivariate analyses reveal that the initial association between parental nativity status and children’s BMI change (OR=0.40; p= 0.004) gets stronger after controlling for other individual- and family-level variables (OR=0.16; p<0.001), and remains unchanged after controlling for an extensive set of covariates, such as dietary and PA behaviors at baseline, socioeconomic and demographic changes in the neighborhood, and measures of food and physical activity environment (OR=0.15; p<0.001).

Conclusions

Having a foreign-born parent is a protective factor for children’s BMI change that operates through pathways different from the subset we explored.