latin food fried food obesity

Challenges to Weight Loss in the Immigrant LatinX Community Interview with:
Raveena Chara
Loma Linda University
Loma Linda, CA What is the background for this study?

latin food fried food obesityResponse: In a country struggling with an epidemic of obesity, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing population groups in the U.S. and have the highest prevalence of obesity. They are also least likely to enroll in weight reduction programs, complete them, and successfully lose weight (though reasons for this remain elusive).

Obesity- a leading predisposing factor for many chronic diseases – is a complex biophysical phenomenon shaped by many factors, including a person’s social environment, health and culture. Culture permeates many aspects of one’s life including how a person views weight and behaviors associated with eating and physical activity. Indeed, for many values and norms about what is culturally acceptable and views on “body weight” vary culturally and affect their decisions about weight and weight loss. This too is the case within the Hispanic population in the US. Given the rising human and financial impact of obesity, preventing and reducing obesity, diabetes and other weight related medical conditions is a growing priority, especially for low income Hispanics. What are the main findings?

Response: The purpose of our study was to explore socio-cultural influences on weight and the barriers to weight loss in monolingual and bi-lingual immigrant Hispanics. In order to do so we explored perceived social environmental influences, community perceptions, religious and cultural influences, support systems related to weight, and weight loss. This study helped reveal two important themes associated with obesity in the Hispanic community; sociocultural themes and structural themes.

Sociocultural Themes:

  • Lack of family and community support for weight loss due to the central nature of food in social life.
  • Cultural views about weight and beauty.
  • Using food as a coping mechanism for stress.

Structural Themes:

  • The influence of immigration to the U.S.
  • The lack of easily accessible and affordable produce and lack of safe walking opportunities.
  • Recent political climate related fears [per community health workers]. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Preventing and reducing obesity is an urgent and complex matter that is affected by individuals’ social environment. Our female Latino immigrant participants spoke of the critical role socio-cultural factors play, such as the lack of family and community support due to the central nature of food in social life, cultural views about weight and beauty (a little “thick” is beautiful), and mental health (eating as coping) due to the many pressures they experienced. They also spoke of structural factors, such as the effect of immigration to the U.S., affecting their ability to freely walk/meet for exercise (less walking, more driving), more access to fast food because of its ever-growing presence in their communities, pricing, and lack of easily accessible and affordable produce alternatives. CHWs [also Latino immigrants] who conducted these interviews also shared that, more recently, the political climate in the U.S. has created fear, impacting social engagement and resulted in a reluctance by those interested in lifestyle changes to engage in programing, outdoor activities as well as social events. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: For weight loss to become successful in our immigrant Latino populations, programs must address both structural as well as sociocultural factors in line with the Social Determinants of Health Framework. Lifestyle changes rather than weight -loss alone should be targeted. Programs need to find practical and culturally informed ways to help participants begin what will need to become a lifelong quest to alter the way they eat and live. Cultural expectations that are maladaptive to healthy changes include: food having a central role in social life, cultural views of weight and obesity (weight gain is not seen as a problem), eating well is a sign of wealth/success, and when eating together everyone is expected to eat the same thing. Understanding these cultural beliefs and expectations is critical to any lifestyle programing. Finally, programing needs to occur in a safe political environment and take participant’s stress and mental health needs into account. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: While a complex challenge for everyone, achieving weight loss is even more complex among immigrant Latinos than it is in non-Hispanic whites. Even if participants want to engage in healthy behaviors, the social determinants in their lives often negatively impact their health and ability to attend programming. Efforts to reduce health disparities need to take these issues into consideration and seek creative culturally aligned and acceptable solutions. When working in communities with multiple challenges, especially communities affected by the current political and immigrant policies, any program promoting lifestyle changes should take into consideration safety, meeting places and social determinants of health and cultural beliefs.

No Disclosures


APHA 2020 abstract: Sociocultural factors affecting obesity in immigrant hispanic womenAbstract: 2036.0: Sociocultural factors affecting obesity in immigrant hispanic women
Raveena Chara1, Maud Joachim-Célestin, MD, DrPH, CHES1, Guljinder Chera, MD(IP)2, Carmen Soret, MPH(c)1, Marisol Lara, B.S., MPH1 and Susanne Montgomery, PhD, MPH, MS1, (1)Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, (2)American University of Antigua, Coolidge, Antigua and Barbuda

Kaplan, M. S., Huguet, N., Newsom, J. T., & Mcfarland, B. H. (2004). The association between length of residence and obesity among Hispanic immigrants. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Retrieved July 25, 2019, from 49379704001825#aep-bibliography id12.

-Hruby, A., & Hu, F. B. (2015). The Epidemiology of Obesity: A Big Picture. NCBI. Retrieved July 25, 2019, from

-Kaufman, L., & Karpati, A. (2007). Understanding the sociocultural roots of childhood obesity: Food practices among Latino families of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Social Science and Medicine. Retrieved July 25, 2019, from 3607000640. 




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Last Updated on January 26, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD