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Childhood Obesity: Why Children of Color Are Gaining More Weight


Minorities are more likely than whites to gain weight in their childhood years. This increases their risk of being obese or overweight in adulthood, according to new research.

In the research study, Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians were more likely to surpass the average weight by the time they are 18 than their white peers.

For the study, three data sets were studied, and more than 31,000 adults participated. The weight categories for the participants were determined according to body mass index (BMI), which is a ratio of a person’s height to weight. If an individual’s BMI is 25 or less, this is considered normal weight. A BMI of 30 or more is classified as obese. Individuals whose BMI results are between 25 and 30 are considered overweight.

The participants who had a normal weight ranged from 49 percent for American Indians to 73 percent of whites. For those in between the ages of 18 and 30, the people most likely to be overweight or obese were Black females, along with American Indian males and females and Hispanic males. According to the study, Black females with normal weight decreased by 5.2 percent per year.

The research also revealed that Black females were more likely to gain weight the fastest. A little more than 10 percent of Black females who were overweight at the age of 18 became obese just one year later.

The lead author of the study, Christy Avery, stated that the findings were likely a reflection of “complex relationships between physiology, culture, socioeconomic status, genetics and the environment.” Avery is also an assistant professor of epidemiology and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She also pointed out that once a person is officially classified as obese, it can be a significant challenge for the individual to achieve normal body weight again.

Excess weight is also linked to a number of chronic diseases, and Avery asserts that prevention is much more effective than a cure when it comes to obesity.

An individual’s surroundings may have a lot to do with weight gain, especially over time. Dr. Mitchell Roslin, who is the chief of obesity surgery at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, states that an “obesogenic environment” is a key factor that increases a person’s risk of obesity. An obesogenic environment is one in which it’s easier for people to gain weight than to maintain a healthy weight, even when they are performing the same normal daily actions as their family and peers.

Roslin shares that people who live in poorer households have a harder time overcoming the challenges of an obesogenic environment. This is largely due to the fact that people in lower socioeconomic groups live very close to a number of fast food chains. People want to feed their families with food that is both filling and cheap, and it can be very expensive to maintain a truly healthy and balanced diet.

While genetics is likely a factor in weight gain, scientists agree that cultural norms are a major contributing factor when it comes to obesity and unhealthy weight. Dr. Stephen Lauer, a University of Kansas Hospital pediatrician, states that since society has helped to generate the childhood obesity problem, it’s important to find ways to reverse weight gain for children.

Dr. Robert Eckel of the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine also asserts that combating the obesity epidemic will require several different approaches. Health care professionals, along with school systems, dietitians, government and even places of worship can join the fight to end obesity among minority children. However, the reform starts in the home.

When people eat as a family, reduce the amount of fatty and sugar foods in their diets, and engage in more physical activity, and the instances of minorities being overweight or obese as children is reduced. This can be especially challenging for single parents and families in low-income neighborhoods. Still, Roslin confirms that parents have the greatest influence over the health and weight of their children.

When health is a goal the entire family tries to attain, it is likely that children with make healthier choices. Family members can influence each other to keep their weight in check and prepare healthy meals for each other. If a household is health-conscious, it is less likely that the children in the home will be obese.

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