Ethnicity May Play a Role in Weight-Loss Decisions

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A new analysis of a landmark weight-loss survey suggests that Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely than whites to use unproven dietary supplements for weight loss. The data, presented at the 2007 Annual Scientific Meeting of NAASO, The Obesity Society, adds to the growing body of research that more awareness about recommended weight-loss treatments and the associated health risks of overweight and obesity is needed among these populations.

The new data show that Hispanics and African-Americans are less likely to use commercial weight-loss programs—defined as organized programs where clients attend regular meetings, either in person or online—and more likely to exercise and use dietary supplements for weight loss, such as herbs or plant extracts, as compared to whites. In contrast with prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, dietary supplements generally do not require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s evaluation and approval for safety or efficacy before they are marketed.

The new subgroup analysis was based on a landmark telephone survey of 3,500 U.S. adults conducted in 2005–2006.

The results suggest that while concern about weight was similar across all groups, whites were more likely than African-Americans or Hispanics to have used a commercial program and less likely than African-Americans or Hispanics to have used OTC supplements for weight loss. The data showed no differences between ethnic groups in the use of prescription medications or medically supervised programs. These associations remained significant after controlling for socioeconomic status, age, gender, self-perceived weight and beliefs about efficacy of supplements.

“We need to be proactive in educating all Americans about realistic expectations when it comes to weight loss and providing them with the tools that work,” says Valentine J. Burroughs, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and a member of the board of trustees of the National Medical Association.

The initial survey was conducted between Nov. 18, 2005, and Jan. 10, 2006, by the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut, a nonpartisan, nonprofit facility. It was funded by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.