Little is known about the impact of race/ethnicity on weight change at university. The objective of this study is to determine if ethnicity has an impact on obesity traits in a multiethnic cohort of first-year students at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
183 first year students from the three most represented ethnic groups (South Asian, East Asian, and white-Caucasian) in our study sample were followed longitudinally with data collected early in the academic year and towards the end of the year. Obesity parameters including body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumference, and waist hip ratio (WHR) were analyzed. The Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used for pairwise comparison of traits from the beginning to the end of the year in the absence of adjustments. Linear regression was used with covariate adjustments to investigate the effect of ethnicity on obesity traits.
A significant increase in weight by 1.49 kg (95%CI: 1.13–1.85) was observed over the academic year in the overall analyzed sample. This was accompanied by significant gains in BMI, waist and hip circumferences, and WHR. Ethnicity stratified analysis indicated significant increase in all investigated obesity traits in East Asians and all traits, but WHR, in South Asians. White-Caucasians only displayed significant increases in weight and BMI. Body weight and hip circumference were significantly lower in East Asians compared to white-Caucasians at baseline. However, East Asians displayed a significantly larger increase in mean BMI and weight compared to white-Caucasians after first-year. South Asians displayed larger waist circumference at baseline compared to East Asians and larger WHR compared to white-Caucasians.
Our findings demonstrate that ethnicity has an impact on obesity traits in first-year university students. Universities should take ethnicity into account while implementing effective obesity prevention programs to promote healthy and active lifestyles for students.