Obesity declines among rich US teens, rises in poor

January 13, 2014 by Kerry Sheridan
This is an image of a weight scale. Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena

In the past decade, obesity has declined among US teenagers from rich families but has risen among their impoverished counterparts, a gap driven by lack of exercise, said a study Monday.

The research by experts at Harvard University examined what appeared to be an encouraging decline in adolescent and found that only the upper class is benefiting.

"We find that although the overall obesity prevalence has plateaued, the trend looks very different across different subgroups," said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using family income as well as the education level of the parents to analyze two major US surveys, researchers found a growing class gap where obesity was concerned.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, obesity rates declined among children of parents who graduated from college.

Meanwhile, rose among children of parents who had only a .

Similar trends were seen when researchers separated the data by income level.

However, when it came to probing racial differences, researchers said they did not have enough data to reliably explore interactions between class and ethnicity.

The obesity rate among those aged 12-17 in the United States nearly doubled from the late 1980s until the mid-2000s, but began leveling off about a decade ago.

About nine percent of adolescent were obese in the time span of 1988 to 1991, but that rose to 17 percent by 2003-2004, according to government data.

There has been no change in the teen obesity rate since then.

In the United States, obesity in adolescents and children is based on growth charts issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A , or ratio of weight and height, above the 95th percentile for age and gender is considered obese. Between the 85th and 94th percentile is considered overweight.

Key reasons the poor may be gaining weight are lack of physical activity and excessive food intake, the study said.

According to the study, calorie intake among kids of all income classes has gone down in recent years, but only kids of educated parents have reported getting regular exercise.

"The difference comes down to ," study co-author Kaisa Snellman told AFP.

"Educated families, they are much more likely to engage in physical activities, exercising, biking around, walking."

Access to healthy foods also remains an obstacle for the poor.

The US Department of Agriculture has reported that 9.7 percent of the US population, or 29.7 million people, live in low-income areas more than a mile from a supermarket.

In those areas, "the only options for grocery shopping are 'convenience' stores, liquor stores, gas stations, or fast food restaurants that sell foods high in fat, sugar, and salt," said the study.

Obesity in young people can cause a host of health concerns, including higher risk of type 2 diabetes, , and psychological problems, experts said.

The study was based on two nationally representative federal health surveys, the 1988-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the 2003-2011 National Survey of Children's Health.

Explore further: Obesity found to be higher in preschoolers suspected of being maltreated

More information: "Increasing socioeconomic disparities in adolescent obesity," by Carl B. Frederick, Kaisa Snellman, and Robert D. Putnam, PNAS, 2014. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1321355110

Related Stories

Obesity found to be higher in preschoolers suspected of being maltreated

October 10, 2013
Obesity rates among preschoolers who have been investigated by child protective services for alleged maltreatment are nearly three times as high as children in the general population, a new study by researchers at the University ...

Childhood obesity may quadruple high blood pressure risk in adulthood

September 12, 2013
Obese children quadruple their risk and overweight children double their risk of developing high blood pressure in adulthood, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research Scientific ...

Obesity may be declining among preschool-aged children living in low-income families

December 25, 2012
"Obesity and extreme obesity in childhood, which are more prevalent among minority and low-income families, have been associated with other cardiovascular risk factors, increased health care costs, and premature death. Obesity ...

Five percent of US children, teens classified as 'severely obese'

September 9, 2013
About 5 percent of U.S. children and teens are "severely obese"—a newly defined class of risk, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement published online in the journal Circulation.

Just 1 in 4 US teens gets enough exercise

January 8, 2014
(HealthDay)—Although U.S. health experts recommend that kids engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least 60 minutes daily, only one in four actually does so, according to a report released Wednesday.

Obesity remains very high in 13 US states (Update)

August 15, 2013
Adult obesity in the U.S. still isn't budging, the latest government survey shows.

Recommended for you

Study finds 90 percent of American men overfat

July 24, 2017
Does your waist measure more than half your height?

Are sugary drink interventions changing people's behaviour?

July 19, 2017
An evaluation of efforts designed to reduce how many sugary drinks we consume shows some success in changing younger people's habits but warns they cannot be the only way to cut consumption.

Young adult obesity: A neglected, yet essential focus to reverse the obesity epidemic

July 18, 2017
The overall burden of the U.S. obesity epidemic continues to require new thinking. Prevention of obesity in young adults, while largely ignored as a target for prevention and study, will be critical to reversing the epidemic, ...

Weight gain from early to middle adulthood may increase risk of major chronic diseases

July 18, 2017
Cumulative weight gain over the course of early and middle adulthood may increase health risks later in life, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that, compared ...

Study finds children carry implicit bias towards peers who are overweight

June 23, 2017
Even children as young as 9 years old can carry a prejudice against their peers who are overweight, according to a new study led by Duke Health researchers. They might not even realize they feel this way.

Mother's obesity boosts risk for major birth defects: study

June 15, 2017
Children of obese women are more likely to be afflicted by major birth defects, including malformations of the heart and genitals, according to a study published on Thursday.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2014
Go figure:
Rich kids can afford a rich, active life;
whereas, for poor kids, food is among a very few ways they can derive any pleasure from life whatsoever. Food, sex, and solitude were my very best friends when I was going through the hell of my parent's poverty. Over the ensuing 50 years or so, I've overcome all that, and am now living a comfortable retirement. But, it's been a grueling 50 years. Poverty is no joke. Everyone should live in poverty for at least one year before being admitted into full adulthood... right after graduating from High School... and before applying for a 'real' job... This might give everybody some empathy for those who do not have non-poverty to return to after a year; but must deal with it, unless and until they can find a way to overcome their poverty... as I did mine.
not rated yet Jan 14, 2014
It's a strange contradiction of the modern mass-consume society that goods that are supposed to be cheap such as unprocessed food or even free such as space to move are not available to many people.

I have no data about Europe but my daily experience tells me that children have every time less space to play on the streets as these are completely occupied by parked cars and traffic so that there is a tendency for the kids and youngsters to stay at home gaming instead of playing football or tag as it was usual not so long ago.

The life of adults, specially the less educated, consists in working mostly sitting, driving to and from work (or just sitting in the trains) and in the cities the tendency is to implement escalators and elevators everywhere so that people don't have to walk more than a few hundred of metres
per day. With leisure consisting in sitting on a couch being entertained.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.