Asian American’s Obesity Disparity

Original Image by Daniel Lee via Flickr
Original Image by Daniel Lee via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

So, as I’ve mentioned beforehand, I’ve been taking an obesity class this quarter we’re constantly reminded that minorities–Hispanics and African-Americans are at greater risk to become overweight or obese.  I’ve been thinking to myself, quietly, where do Asians fit into this equation?

As a Chinese American, I’m happy my ethnic group isn’t at a tremendous health risk to develop diseases related to obesity.  I’ve heard repeatedly that those Asians that are overweight or obese, the effects of their excess weight is more serious than other ethnic groups.  In actuality, 11% of the Asian American population have been classified as obese.  How has that number not come to the attention of others?

In comparison to the national average of 35% of Americans obese, 11% doesn’t seem too bad. With 33% of Caucasians obese, 42% of Hispanics and 48% of African-Americans stated to be obese.However, what alarms me is that statistics on Asian Americans’  on obesity did not emerge until this year, in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since Asian Americans only make up 5% of the American population.

With a physiological predisposition of “apple-shaped” bodie,, many Asians are considered “skinny fat” as Asian Americans with a BMI of greater than 24 are considered at greater risk for diabetes, while the normal standard is a BMI of 24.5, considered being overweight. There is an increased risk of CVD with being overweight or obese, which can start in normal-weight Asians who have a BMI of just 19 or 20.


Range  of BMI for Americans (kg/m2)

Range of BMI for Asian Americans (kg/m2)




Normal Range



Overweight—pre obese



Obese Class I



Obese Class II


Obese Class III


To check your BMI based on weight and height, use  I find it interesting there is less “wiggle” room for Asian Americans’ classification of BMI.  With normal BMI range 1 unit less for Asian Americans than the average American, it shows how different bodies can be.

Critics state clustering all Asian Americans together is not a true representation of the obesity problem among Asians.  For example, Filipinos 70% more likely to be obese than other Asian American ethnic groups while 1/10 in Vietnamese and Korean have been classified as underweight. With such a range of body compositions and subgroups, by clumping all Asians together lessens the seriousness of an equally troubling disease state found in Asian Americans.

The assumption that Asian Americans are overall healthier has caused challenges in the ability of many Asian Americans to receive funding. It’s very easy to play into the sense false of carefree nature in regards to Asian Americans and their waistlines, however, Asian Americans are equally deserved of proper nutrition education and funding.


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