Low-Income Teens More Likely To Be Overweight
The percentage of teenagers ages 15 to 17 who are overweight is 50% higher in low-income families than in higher-income families, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
For the study, Richard Miech, a sociologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues examined data from 10,800 teens ages 12 to 17 who participated in four nationally representative surveys conducted between 1971 and 2004 (Tanner, AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/23). Researchers defined low-income teens as those in families whose annual incomes did not exceed the federal poverty level and defined overweight teens as those with a body mass index in the 95th percentile (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 5/24).
In the early 1970s, the study finds that about 4% of teens ages 15 to 17 in low-income families were severely overweight, compared with about 5% of those in higher-income families. However, by the early 2000s, 23% of teens ages 15 to 17 in low-income families were severely overweight, compared with about 14% of those in higher-income families, the study finds (AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/23).
According to the study, low-income children have about the same obesity rates as higher-income children until age 14, after which time obesity rates increase at a much higher rate among low-income children.
Miech said that low-income teens are more likely than higher-income teens to eat junk food, which has limited or no nutritional value and is high in calories.
Maureen Black, a pediatric psychologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that many low-income teens live in environments that do not encourage a healthy diet or exercise. In addition, many low-income teens do not exercise because they live in unsafe environments, she said (Baltimore Sun, 5/24).
Adam Drewnowski, a University of Washington researcher, said, "The campaign against obesity and the struggle against poverty are, in fact, one and the same," adding that healthy diets cost more and that access to exercise "depends on how much money you've got" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/23).
The study is available online.
In related news, the Wall Street Journal examined how "older Americans are remaining fit longer," but their children and grandchildren "are becoming disabled sooner because of health problems related to obesity." According to a recent study conducted by Hartford Financial, although the number of U.S. residents ages 45 and older has increased at about 3% annually, the number of disability claims has remained about the same.
However, disability rates among residents ages 30 to 59 have increased in recent years, with the largest increase among residents ages 30 to 39, according to Darius Lakdawalla, a RAND economist. Between 1990 and 1998, cases of diabetes among residents ages 30 to 39 increased by 70%, with the trend likely to continue as many obese children and teens develop precursors to type 2 diabetes, the Journal reports (Mincer, Wall Street Journal, 5/24).