Racial/ethnic disparities in childhood obesity: The role of school segregation

Nuha Mahmood, Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, Mika Matsuzaki, Brisa N. Sánchez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Recent studies have observed that racial or ethnic adult health disparities revealed in national data dissipate in racially integrated communities, supporting the theory that “place, not race” shapes the nature and magnitude of racial/ethnic health disparities. This study tested this theory among children. Methods: In 2020, the racial/ethnic childhood obesity disparities within integrated schools and between segregated schools were estimated using statewide cross-sectional data collected in 2019 on fifth, seventh, and ninth grade students from California public schools. Results: School segregation accounted for a large part of the obesity disparities between White children and children of color (Latino, Black, and Filipino children). In racially integrated schools, obesity disparities were much smaller than those in statewide data, whereas racial or ethnic childhood obesity disparities were larger when comparing children in majority-White schools with those attending schools with a majority enrollment of children of color, except for Asian children, who generally had lower obesity rates than their White peers. Conclusions: School-level racial segregation is a salient contributor to racial/ethnic childhood obesity disparities. Reducing obesity disparities may be particularly effective if place-level interventions target socioeconomically disadvantaged integrated schools and segregated schools attended primarily by children of color.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1116-1125
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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