American Journal of Men's Health (May 2020)

The Association Between Race, Obesity, and Sperm Quality Among Men Attending a University Physician Practice in Washington, DC

  • Nathan L. McCray,
  • Heather A. Young,
  • Michael S. Irwig,
  • David Frankfurter,
  • Arnold M. Schwartz,
  • Jeannine Witmyer,
  • Marijane Hynes,
  • Vimala V. Jayanthi,
  • Mia Marcus,
  • Mihir Patel,
  • Melissa J. Perry

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14


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A decades-long decline in sperm counts in Western countries has coincided with an increase in obesity rates, prompting study into their association. Few of these studies have incorporated men of color, the sperm health of whom is relatively unknown. The present exploratory study evaluated the association between body mass index (BMI), race, ethnicity, and sperm parameters among a diverse sample of U.S. men attending a Washington, DC physician practice. Semen samples were collected and processed at a single laboratory and sperm concentration, motility, morphology, and count were evaluated according to World Health Organization (WHO) 5th edition criteria. Multivariate models accounted for covariates related to sperm health. The study population ( n = 128) was largely obese (45.3%) or overweight (34.4%), and 36.0% were black or Hispanic. Black men had lower adjusted sperm concentration compared to white men (75.0 million/mL to 107.4 million/mL, p = .01) and were more likely to have oligozoospermia ( p = .01), asthenozoospermia ( p = .004), and low sperm count ( p < .0001). Hispanic men had higher adjusted sperm concentration compared to non-Hispanic men (124.5 million/mL to 62.1 million/mL, p = .007) and were less likely to have teratozoospermia ( p = .001). Obesity and BMI were associated with lower sperm motility and count in crude models only. Given the study’s sample size its findings should be interpreted with caution but align with the limited epidemiological literature to date that has evaluated racial and ethnic differences in semen quality. Heightened clinical research attention is needed to ensure men of color are included in representative numbers in studies of urologic and andrologic health.