Poverty, not race or ethnicity, primary driver of pediatric obesity

Overweight or obesity in Massachusetts children is more strongly related to low-income status than to race or ethnicity, according to study findings.

“The findings reveal differences in the inequalities in the physical and social environment in which children are raised,” Kim A. Eagle, MD, a cardiologist and director at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, said in a press release. “It illustrates that race and ethnicity in communities may not have a significant connection to obesity status once the community’s income is considered.”

Kim Eagle

Kim A. Eagle

Eagle and colleagues evaluated 2009 data from 68 Massachusetts school districts on 111,799 first-, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders to determine whether race/ethnicity is an independent factor of childhood obesity after accounting for variations in socioeconomic status.

Across the school districts, the prevalence of children with overweight or obesity ranged from 9.6% to 42.8%, and low-income status ranged from 2.4% to 69.5%. The mean prevalence of overweight or obesity was 32%, mean prevalence of black or Hispanic status was 17% and the mean prevalence of low-income status was 27%.

Overweight or obesity was strongly linked to low-income status (P < .0001). There was a 1.17-percentage point increase in overweight or obesity prevalence for every 1-percentage point increase in low-income status. After controlling for low-income status, no significant relationship was found between race or ethnicity and overweight or obesity.

“Lower household resources appear to have a much greater impact on childhood obesity rates in this cohort of Massachusetts students than race and ethnicity,” the researchers wrote. “Future research in additional states is warranted to build the wealth of knowledge on this topic and assist in the development of effective interventions to reduce childhood obesity in communities with varying income levels.” – by Amber Cox

The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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