Obesity rates in preschool-aged children are greatest among Latinos. Studies of the relationship of acculturation to obesity among Latino immigrants have primarily focused on adults and adolescents. We examined the influence of maternal acculturation on child body mass index (BMI) at age 24 and 36 months among predominantly Latino, low-income mother-child pairs enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
Maternal characteristics were obtained from interviewer-administered surveys conducted in English or Spanish at 6 to 20 weeks postpartum among 679 participants in a randomized controlled trial of a health promotion intervention in two urban areas in the Northeast. Acculturation measures included: nativity (born in the United States vs foreign born), parents' nativity, years of US residence (<8 years vs > or =8 years), and exclusive use of native language vs nonexclusive use (mixed or English only). Following repeated mailings and telephone calls requesting permission to obtain their child's height and weight from Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children records, informed consent was obtained from 108 mothers. Multivariable linear regression models of maternal acculturation and child BMI z score at age 24 months and age 36 months were estimated among all mother-child pairs and within immigrant-only mother-child pairs, adjusting for relevant maternal characteristics.
At age 24 months, children of mothers with exclusive use of native language had higher BMI z scores compared to children of mothers with nonexclusive use among 91 mother-child pairs (beta=.74, P=0.02) and within 63 immigrant-only mother-child pairs (beta=.92, P=0.009).
Exclusive use of native language was associated with greater BMI in children as young as age 24 months. Future research should examine the mechanisms by which mothers' language acculturation may affect proximal determinants of energy balance in preschool children, including breastfeeding practices, dietary intake, and physical activity.