Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Clinical Psychology, PhD



Faculty Advisor

Amy Marks


Pediatric obesity is considered a debilitating chronic illness, and a major public health concern in the United States. Researchers have recently observed that certain social groups in the U.S. are at a higher risk of overweight and obesity, such as immigrant children and adolescents. Two competing models in the literature, risk and protective frameworks, have been used to characterize the trajectory of weight gain as immigrants spend more in the U.S. Risk models assert that first generation immigrant groups are at higher risk of overweight and obesity while protective models refer to the phenomenon wherein obesity is less prevalent in first generation immigrant youth when compared to second and third generation co-ethnic peers. Thus far, literature examining immigrant health in relation to weight gain has been mixed with each model garnering support. In addition to conflicting findings throughout the literature, current research is also limited in that it merely describes health outcomes without explaining why differences across generations may exist. Therefore, the present research seeks to identify specific health behaviors and changes in cultural context that may contribute to weight gain among immigrant adolescents. In Study 1, we examined the mediating role of several health behaviors on the relation between obesity and generation status among a nationally representative sample of Latino immigrant youth. The results showing that sedentary behaviors partially mediated the relation between obesity and generation status provide a first step in explaining weight gain among Latino immigrants. In Study 2, we further examined how these health behaviors might change from one cultural context to another. A new behavioral model, the Operant Model of Acculturation, was directly tested among a community-based sample of immigrant adolescents to examine if changes in culturally-reinforced behaviors from one culture to another account for differences in healthy and unhealthy behaviors across various levels of assimilation. The results indicate that changes in culturally-reinforced behaviors do, indeed, account for changes in health behaviors as immigrants spend more time in the U.S. Findings from both studies can be used to inform the development of targeted preventive efforts to reduce weight gain among immigrant adolescent groups.

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