Open Access Research article

Risk of obesity in immigrants compared with Swedes in two deprived neighbourhoods

Johan Faskunger1, Ulf Eriksson1, Sven-Erik Johansson12, Kristina Sundquist12 and Jan Sundquist23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurobiology, Health Care Sciences and Society/Center for Family and Community Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Deparment of Clinical Science, Center for Primary Health Care Research, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden

3 Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Califorina, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2009, 9:304  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-304

Published: 22 August 2009



Despite a strong social gradient in the prevalence of obesity, there is little scientific understanding of obesity in people settled in deprived neighbourhoods. Few studies are actually based on objectively measured data using random sampling of residents in deprived neighbourhoods. In addition, most studies use a crude measure, the body mass index, to estimate obesity. This is of concern because it may cause inaccurate estimations of the true prevalence and give the wrong picture of the factors associated with obesity. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of, and analyse the sociodemographic factors associated with, three indices of obesity in different ethnic groups settled in two deprived neighbourhoods in Sweden.


Height and weight, waist circumference and body fat percentage were objectively measured in a random sample (n = 289). Sociodemographic data were obtained through a survey. Established cut-offs were used to determine obesity. Country of birth was categorized as Swedish, Other European, and Middle Eastern. Odds ratios were estimated by unconditional logistic regression.


One third of the sample was classified as obese overall, with 39.0% of women being abdominally obese. After adjusting for age, we found higher odds of obesity in Middle Eastern women than in Swedish women regardless of outcome with odds ratios ranging between 2.74 and 5.53. Men of other European origin had higher odds of BMI obesity than Swedish men. Most associations between country of birth and obesity remained in the full model.


This study demonstrates the magnitude of the obesity problem and the need for prevention programmes targeting native and immigrant adults in deprived neighbourhoods in Sweden. The initiatives should also focus on particular groups, e.g. immigrant women and those experiencing economic difficulties. Further studies are needed on behavioural and environmental factors influencing the risk of obesity in residents settled in deprived neighbourhoods.