Insufficient Healthy Food May Not Increase Risk of Obesity Among Poorer Kids
> 1/22/2008 2:01:24 PM

Research has shown that children from low-income families are more likely to be overweight or obese than children from higher-income families, and researchers continue to investigate the reasons behind this relationship. A new study published in the February issue of The Journal of Nutrition argues against one of the most prevalent theories, which holds that children from poorer families are more likely to be overweight because they have less access to healthy food.

Past studies have examined the relationship between children's weight and household food insecurity, defined as having unreliable access to nutritious food, but this study measured food insecurity experienced specifically by children. The study involved over 1,000 children from low-income homes in Chicago, Boston, and San Antonio. They determined whether or not the children ate enough food everyday to maintain healthy and active lives. They also asked the children's mothers if they had ever had to give their children less food or skip a meal because of lack of money. About half of the children studied were overweight or obese, while 8% were not eating enough nutritious food each day. The researchers found that those who ate an insufficient amount of healthy food did not have a greater chance of becoming overweight or obese.

There are a number of reasons why a child who lacks nutritious food might be at risk for obesity. Food high in calories and fat is cheaper than healthy, nutritious food, and researchers have surmised that many poor children are overweight because their diet consists mostly of cheap, unhealthy food. Others suggest that the amount of food these children eat may be a factor. Children from poorer families may eat very little when their parents cannot afford to buy food but eat more when their parents have more money, and these fluctuations could cause their metabolisms to slow down, putting them at risk for weight gain. While the results of this study oppose the belief that the unhealthy weight of some children is tied to the deficiencies in their diet, the researchers also found that poverty and obesity often occur together. Of the children who did not eat enough healthy food, 25% were overweight or obese, and more research is needed if we are to understand why.

The reasons why children from low-income families are more likely to be overweight remain uncertain, and further studies should paint a clearer picture of the connection. According to this study, 17% of American kids and teens are overweight or obese, and 20% do not have stable access to healthy food. These problems have not disappeared, and we must continue to study the factors influencing childhood obesity while also working to ensure that all children get enough nutritious food.

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