Most studies on the role of family environment in developing risk of obesity among youth have focused on parenting behaviors that are directly involved in energy balance in regional, non-representative White samples. Using a national sample of ethnically diverse Black youth, the current study tested the association between low family support and risk of obesity. We also tested the heterogeneity of this association based on gender, ethnicity, and their intersection. We used data from the National Survey of American Life-Adolescent Supplement (NSAL-A), a national survey of Black adolescents in the United States. The study enrolled 1170 African American and Caribbean Black 13-17 year old youth. Obesity was defined based on the cutoff points of body mass index (BMI) appropriate for age and gender of youth. Family support was measured using a five-item measure that captured emotional and tangible social support. Age, gender, and ethnicity were also measured. Logistic regressions were utilized in the pooled sample, and also based on gender, ethnicity, and their intersection, to test the link between low family support and risk for obesity.
In the pooled sample, low family support was not associated with an increased risk of obesity (OR = 1.35, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) = 0.96-1.89). The association between low family support and risk of obesity was, however, significant among African American females (OR = 1.60, 95% CI = 1.01-2.55). There was no association for African American males (OR = 1.26, 95% CI = 0.82-1.92), Caribbean Black males (OR = 0.68, 95% CI = 0.01-54.85), and Caribbean Black females (OR = 0.78, 95% CI = 0.42-1.44). In conclusion, policies and programs that enable African American families to provide additional family support may prevent obesity among African American female youth. Future research should test the efficacy of promoting family support as a tool for preventing obesity among African American female youth.