The role of behavioral variables and fat patterning in explaining ethnic differences in serum lipids and lipoproteins

Steven M. Haffner, Michael P. Stern, Helen P. Hazuda, Marc Rosenthal, J. Ava Knapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Mexican Americans have been previously reported to have greater adiposity, higher triglyceride levels, and lower high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels than Anglos. This study investigated the relationship between behavioral variables (caloric balance, cigarette and alcohol consumption, exercise, post-menopausal estrogen or oral contraceptive use) and fat patterning (central vs. peripheral distribution of adiposity) in the San Antonio Heart Study (1979-1982) (n=2,102) to explain the ethnic difference in lipids and lipoproteins. Adjustment for caloric balance (as reflected by body mass index) narrowed the ethnic difference in triglyceride and HDL levels for both sexes, while adjustment for smoking widened the ethnic difference. For females, the ethnic difference was also decreased by adjustment for alcohol and estrogen use. However, adjustment for these behavioral variables did not completely eliminate the ethnic difference in lipids and lipoproteins in either sex. Increased central adiposity, more characteristic of Mexican Americans than Anglos, was positively associated with triglycerides and negatively associated with HDL levels, especially in females. Fat patterning made a more important contribution to the prediction of triglyceride and HDL levels than did the other behavioral variables (except for caloric balance) and, in general, eliminated ethnic differences in lipids and lipoproteins. Epidemiologists should consider the use of a centrality index to distinguish different types of adiposity since it is easy and inexpensive to measure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)830-839
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1986


  • Adipose tissue
  • Ethnic groups
  • Lipids
  • Lipoproteins
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Mexican Americans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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