Background: Few studies have examined weight transitions in contemporary multi-ethnic populations spanning early childhood through adulthood despite the ability of such research to inform obesity prevention, control, and disparities reduction. Methods and Results: We characterized the ages at which African American, Caucasian, and Mexican American populations transitioned to overweight and obesity using contemporary and nationally representative cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data (n = 21,220; aged 2-80 years). Age-, sex-, and race/ethnic-specific one-year net transition probabilities between body mass index-classified normal weight, overweight, and obesity were estimated using calibrated and validated Markov-type models that accommodated complex sampling. At age two, the obesity prevalence ranged from 7.3% in Caucasian males to 16.1% in Mexican American males. For all populations, estimated one-year overweight to obesity net transition probabilities peaked at age two and were highest for Mexican American males and African American females, for whom a net 12.3% (95% CI: 7.6%-17.0%) and 11.9% (95% CI: 8.5%-15.3%) of the overweight populations transitioned to obesity by age three, respectively. However, extrapolation to the 2010 U.S. population demonstrated that Mexican American males were the only population for whom net increases in obesity peaked during early childhood; age-specific net increases in obesity were approximately constant through the second decade of life for African Americans and Mexican American females and peaked at age 20 for Caucasians. Conclusions: African American and Mexican American populations shoulder elevated rates of many obesity-associated chronic diseases and disparities in early transitions to obesity could further increase these inequalities if left unaddressed.
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