Short relative leg length is associated with overweight and obesity in Mexican immigrant women

Mireya Vilar-Compte, James Macinko, Beth C. Weitzman, Carlos M. Avendaño-Villela

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10 Scopus citations


Background: Prior research suggests that undernutrition and enteric infections predispose children to stunted growth. Undernutrition and infections have been associated with limited access to healthy diets, lack of sanitation, and access barriers to healthcare - all associated with human rights. Stunting has also been documented to be a major determinant of subsequent obesity and non-communicable diseases. Short leg length relative to stature during adulthood seems to be a good proxy indicator tracking such barriers, and has been reported to be associated with adverse health effects during adulthood. Our objective was to examine the association between relative leg length (as measured by the leg length index, LLI) and measures of adiposity - based on body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) - in a population of recent Mexican immigrant women to the New York City Area. Methods: The analysis was based on a cross-sectional survey of 200 Mexican immigrant women aged 18 to 70 years, whose data were collected between April and November 2008; although for purposes of the current study we restricted the sample to those aged 18 to 59 years. The dependent variables were BMI and WC, both transformed into categorical variables. The main independent variable was LLI, and other correlates were controlled for (i.e. age, education, having had children, characteristics of the community of origin, acculturation, chronic conditions, sedentary behaviors, access to fresh fruits and vegetables). Two probit models were estimated: the first one analyzed the effect of LLI on BMI categories and the second one estimated the effect of LLI on WC. Results: The probit assessing the effect of LLI on overweight/obesity suggested that having a short LLI increased the probability of overweight/obesity by 21 percentage points. Results from the probit model estimating the effect of LLI on WC indicated that having a short LLI increased the probability of having abdominal adiposity by 39 percentage points. Both results were statistically significant at p < 0.05. Conclusion: The study found an association between having shorter legs relative to one's height and increased risk of overweight/obesity and abdominal adiposity. Findings support the epidemiological evidence regarding the association between short leg length, early life socioeconomic conditions (i.e. limited access to basic rights), and increased risk of adverse health effects later in life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2019


  • Body mass index
  • Leg length; obesity
  • Social mobility in health; social determinants; immigration
  • Stunting
  • Waist circumference


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