Studies show that foreign-born Asian Americans are significantly less overweight and obese than U.S.-born Asian Americans. A new study from California finds that Asian Americans who retain their Asian language are more likely to have a healthy weight. The study pinpoints those who have lost their heritage language and culture as particularly at risk for becoming overweight or obese.

One major reason for the increase in obesity is that acculturation into American culture is likely to increase the consumption of unhealthy food such as burgers, fries and soda. Promoting healthy eating and physical activity associated with the heritage culture of Asian Americans who only speak English may help prevent their increased risk for being overweight or obese.

The study authors suggest further research is needed to determine why retaining heritage culture helps prevent obesity and how the protective behaviors can be extended after each generation.

1. Wang S, Quan J, Kanaya AM, Fernandez A. Asian Americans and obesity in California: a protective effect of biculturalism. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, published online 13 Dec 2010. (open access)