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Children in Poor Neighborhoods at Greater Risk of Obesity

First Posted: Jun 20, 2014 11:30 PM EDT

Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods may be more likely to deal with weight issues, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

"The effects of neighborhood poverty on children's weight may be just as important as the effects of family poverty," said study co-author, Cornell University's Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology, in a news release. "Children and families are embedded in neighborhoods; poor neighborhoods differ structurally from wealthier neighborhoods, with fewer safe and natural places to play and exercise, fewer supermarkets and more fast food."

Statistics show that childhood obesity is a continuing problem throughout the world. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that obesity rates have doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the effects of neighborhood poverty levels, family poverty levels and ethnicity on the rate of childhood obesity. They analyzed data from close to 1,000 children who were born with low birth weight. Yet researchers looked for any changes in the children's body mass index (BMI) between the ages of 2 and 6-and-a-half.

The researchers discovered that by the age of 2, the low birth weight infants from poor areas had unusually high BMIs compared to those measured in the low birth weight category from wealthier neighborhoods. African-American toddlers from poor neighborhoods were also found to carry the highest risk for weight issues.

"Health disparities emerge early and shape lifelong health," Evans said, according to Medical Xpress. "Interventions need to address both the fundamental risk factors for pediatric obesity, such as poverty, chaotic living conditions and low parental education, as well as the mechanisms that appear to convey these risks, such as restricted access to healthy food, few safe and natural places to play, too much fast food, child food marketing and high levels of chronic stress."

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