Money Plays Role in Childhood Obesity, Study Finds
According to a California Research Bureau study released yesterday, money is the number one factor influencing childhood obesity, the Sacramento Bee reports. CRB Senior Policy Analyst Joel Cohen conducted focus groups with more than 200 children ages 9-10 and their parents to identify factors that keep children from getting enough exercise and maintaining a proper diet. Study participants came from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds from Oakland, Los Angeles and Fresno and had average family incomes of 150% of the poverty level -- "an economic group that has been shown to be at higher risk of childhood obesity," the Bee reports. According to his qualitative analysis, Cohen said that the "No. 1 one issue [influencing childhood obesity] was money." For example, physical activity was limited among children whose parents could not afford to put kids on sports teams or did not have time to bring them to and from organized activities. One parent said, "It all boils down to money. If you don't have money, you can't do activities, whether it's the gym or ice skating rink."
Money also factored into parents' food purchasing decisions. Study participants said fruits and vegetables were "too expensive to keep in the house all the time and can be hard to prepare." Meanwhile, parents added that fast food "tastes good, gets eaten and gives kids lots of choices." In addition, children interviewed indicated that they would prefer a food court-style school cafeteria featuring many fast-food options. Children also said that they "hated soggy or sticky food or foods that turns colors, like overripe fruit." But University of California-Davis pediatric endocrinologist Dennis Styne said, "You have to teach children to like the things that in some cases are healthy for them."
In addition to money, parents cited unsafe neighborhoods as another impediment to physical activity. According to Cohen, "play[ing] in parks, aimlessly riding bikes, playing unsupervised pickup games and walking to and from school" are now just "happy memories," as many parents in urban areas require children to remain in their view. Therefore, many children find themselves indoors, watching television programming that bombards them with advertisements for high-calorie food products, according to Styne.
State Sen. Martha Escutia (D), one of two state legislators that requested the study, urged schools to play a larger role in improving childhood nutrition. Escutia said, "The state is putting more pressure on kids to compete academically. If we want our kids to be academically competitive, they have to be healthy to begin with." However, schools have "reduced their emphasis" on physical education and after-school athletic programs, the Bee reports. In addition, parents and children involved in the study said they "felt alienated by the high level of competition in organized sport activities" at schools. And many kids said they preferred sitting on the sidelines to looking "like a fool on the field," Cohen said (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 12/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.