Lack of Exercise Blamed in Income Disparity of Childhood Obesity

Saturday, February 01, 2014
(photo: Matt Slocum, AP)

Low-income families with less education are more prone to producing obese children who don’t exercise enough, unlike families with higher earnings and college education.


A study (pdf) out of Harvard found obesity among teenagers with college-educated parents started to decline about 10 years ago. But just the opposite happened for teens with parents who had only a high school diploma—obesity continued to climb.


Overall, obesity rates for adolescents 12 to 19 did not rise between 2003 and 2010. But Robert Putnam and his colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School dug down through the statistics and found during that period, obesity rates among teens whose parents have no more than a high-school education rose from about 20% to 25%.


Meanwhile, teenage children of parents with a four-year college degree or more saw their obesity rates fall from 14% to about 7%.


“The overall trend in youth obesity rates masks a significant and growing class gap between youth from upper and lower socioeconomic status backgrounds,” the authors of the study wrote.


Physical activity, and the lack of it, may help explain the differences between these two groups.


Using data from two national health surveys (the 1988–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and the 2003–2011 National Survey of Children’s Health), the researchers found:


·         87% of adolescents in 2003 living with parents who had college degrees told survey-takers that they had exercised or played a sport for at least 20 minutes continuously sometime in the last seven days. The rate went up to 90.1% by 2011.


·         But 79.8% of adolescent children in 2003 with parents who did not go beyond high school said they had exercised or played a sport for at least 20 minutes in the last week. The rate went up only slightly by 2011, to 80.4%.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Uncovering the Real Drivers of Obesity in Young People (by Joe Rojas-Burke, Association of Health Care Journalists)

Among Kids in U.S., the Rich Get Thinner and the Poor Get Fatter (by Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times)

Increasing Socioeconomic Disparities In Adolescent Obesity (by Carl B. Fredericka, Kaisa Snellmana, and Robert D. Putnama, PNAS) (pdf)

Cuts in Phys Ed Take Toll: Only One-Third of California Students Are Fit (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Major Study Connects Plastic Packaging with Childhood Obesity (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

While Industries Lobby against Voluntary Kid Nutrition Guidelines, Foster Care for the Obese Is Proposed (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Ken Broder, AllGov)


Leave a comment