The modern obesity epidemic is growing, with genetic, metabolic and environmental factors all influencing the trend. However, the obesity epidemic does not affect all individuals equally, with some race and ethnic groups being disproportionately affected. 

Kelsey Serier, graduate student at The University of New Mexico Psychology Department, is seeking overweight Hispanic/Latina women between the ages of 18-69 who are interested in losing weight for a proposed study to see if addressing familism and poor body image have an effect on tracking their own dietary and physical activity.

Most people know they need to change their diet and increase their physical activity to lose weight. However, what is difficult is adhering to those changes. It is easy to fall back into old diet and eating patterns, especially in our current environment, that does not always support making healthy choices, Serier observed.

Previous research has indicated disparities in how well weight management programs work for Hispanic/Latina women in contrast to non-Hispanic/Latina women. 

“We see this in the weight management literature with individuals from ethnic and racial minority groups benefitting less from these interventions. However, very little is known about what causes these differences. It is likely that weight management programs have not been designed to take into account cultural factors that may influence treatment success,” Serier said. “We are interested in better understanding these disparities and finding ways to tailor weight management programs, in such a way, to minimize these differences.”

Serier said the main barrier to a good outcome in behavioral weight loss treatment is individuals’ ability to adhere to measures that could help, such as exercise and reducing calorie intake.  Studies that have tried to identify factors that impact adherence show that, among Hispanic/Latina women, familism and body dissatisfaction are major issues.

Familism, or “family comes first,” is a value that puts family relationships and family obligations ahead of attention to one’s self, Serier explained. Although this value is found across many cultures, it appears to be particularly important in Hispanic/Latinx cultures. A previous study, conducted by clinical psychology professor Jane Ellen Smith’s lab at UNM, found that Hispanic/Latina women who were higher in familism were less likely to meet their calorie and/or step goals and were less likely to attend treatment sessions than were Hispanic/Latina women reporting lower levels of familism.  

Another study by Smith also found that Hispanic/Latina women with the highest body dissatisfaction did less well in treatment. In this study, women with the poorest body image dropped out of treatment sooner and were less likely to meet their calorie and exercise goals.  It may be that helping women improve their body image before engaging in a weight management program will help them stick to healthy changes, Serier observed.

If you are interested in participating in the study

“We are beginning recruiting participants into the eight-week study,” she said. She is looking for 300 women who identify as Hispanic/Latina, ages 18-69, who are interested in losing weight. They must have reliable access to the internet or a smartphone. 

During the study, participants will be asked to track their food intake and step count on a free online self-monitoring platform. Some participants will have the opportunity to receive four one-hour weekly therapy sessions. These therapy sessions will be free and conducted by UNM clinical psychology graduate students at the school.

Interested participants can contact 505-226-1262 or Participants can also complete an online screening form.

“We hope that the results and conclusions will be released in the next few years,” Serier said. “The main outcome variable in the study is self-monitoring or keeping track of what you eat and how much you exercise. Keeping track of your food intake and exercise levels is a strong predictor of long-term weight loss success. We will be interested in what helps individuals meet their self-monitoring goals”

“After this study, if one of the brief interventions seems to work well, we will test this intervention as an adjunct to a full weight management program. The idea is that these brief interventions may help women, especially women from diverse backgrounds, be better able to engage in a weight management program. The ultimate goal of this study is to provide women with skills to help them achieve their health goals.”