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Poor Neighborhoods tied to Higher Childhood Obesity Rates

Update Date: Jun 20, 2014 11:33 AM EDT

Childhood obesity is a growing problem throughout the world. Children who are obese or overweight are more likely to become morbidly obese adults. Due to the health risks and costs of obesity, health experts and officials have created many programs to help combat this issue. In a new study, researchers examined certain risk factors of childhood obesity and found that growing up in a poor neighborhood can have a huge effect on a child's waistline.

"The effects of neighborhood poverty on children's weight may be just as important as the effects of family poverty," stated study co-author, Cornell University's Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology. "Children and families are embedded in neighborhoods; poor neighborhoods differ structurally from wealthier neighborhoods, with fewer safe and natural places to play and exercise, fewer supermarkets and more fast food."

For this study, Evans, who worked with Pamela Klebanov from Princeton University and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn from Columbia University, analyzed the effects of neighborhood poverty levels, family poverty levels and ethnicity on the rate of childhood obesity. The team had data on nearly 1,000 children who were born with low birth weight. They looked at any changes in the children's body mass index (BMI) between the ages of two and six and a half. BMI is used to calculate obesity.

The researchers found that by the age of two, the low birth weight infants from poor neighborhoods already had BMIs that were higher than those measured in low birth weight infants from wealthier neighborhoods. The team also found that children living in poor areas reached adiposity rebound faster than wealthier counterparts. Adiposity rebound typically occurs between the ages of five and seven when BMI starts to increase. Children who reach adiposity rebound faster have a higher risk of obesity.

When the researchers examined the effect of race, they found that African-American toddlers from poor neighborhoods were more likely to reach adiposity rebound faster. They were also more likely to have higher BMIs.

"Health disparities emerge early and shape lifelong health," Evans said reported by Medical Xpress. "Interventions need to address both the fundamental risk factors for pediatric obesity, such as poverty, chaotic living conditions and low parental education, as well as the mechanisms that appear to convey these risks, such as restricted access to healthy food, few safe and natural places to play, too much fast food, child food marketing and high levels of chronic stress."

The study, "Poverty, ethnicity, and risk of obesity among low birth weight infants," was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

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