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Class gap for childhood obesity widens

Obesity grows amongst poor but drops for rich

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Research has revealed a growing class gap between rich and poor when it comes to childhood obesity.

The study from Harvard University suggests that, while the childhood obesity epidemic appears to have plateaued in the USA, this positive trend only applies to children with a higher socioeconomic status (SES) background. 

Using data from two long-term national health surveys, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Survey of Children’s Health, Carl Frederick, Kaisa Snellman, and Robert Putnam, of Harvard Kennedy School, show that obesity rates increased at similar rates for all adolescents between 1988 and 2002. 

Since then, however, obesity has begun to decline among higher SES youth but has continued to increase among lower SES youth, the authors report. 

Furthermore, children from high SES families reported higher levels of physical activity and a greater decrease in caloric intake during the 12-year period between 1999 and 2010, compared with children from low SES families, a finding that may help to explain the growing socioeconomic disparity in obesity among adolescents, the authors suggest. 

The results underscore the need to target public health interventions to disadvantaged youth who remain at risk for obesity and to examine how health information circulates through class-biased channels, the authors conclude. 

The study: “Increasing socioeconomic disparities in adolescent obesity,” is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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