What's Behind Teen Obesity?

Gender and ethnic-racial factors influence weight, study finds

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FRIDAY, Jan. 10, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Income and education levels aren't always the most important factors influencing adolescent obesity, says a study in the January issue of Obesity Research.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study says gender and ethnic-racial factors also play an important role.

The study found that weight problems were lower among white girls from high-income, better-educated families than among other white girls. However, the study found that wasn't the case when they looked at black girls from high-income, well-educated families.

The researchers wanted to find out why obesity is higher in minority groups.They analyzed data collected from 13,113 American adolescents enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Using statistical techniques, they examined the relationship of family income and parents' education to the rates of weight problems in different racial and ethnic groups. The researchers also wanted to find out what happened when they mathematically equalized income and education among all the adolescents in the study.

When they did that and made everyone have an income of $80,000 or more, they found that rates of obesity were low for white, Hispanic and Asian girls, but high for black girls. The difference between white and black girls was actually highest at the highest income and education levels.

The study found a less extreme pattern among adolescent males, where there was higher rates of obesity among Hispanic and black males compared to Asian and white males.

The researchers conclude that obesity is not just a reflection of socioeconomic differences, as commonly believed. They suggest environmental, cultural, contextual and community factors also need to be addressed to find solutions for teen obesity in the United States.

For example, changing environmental factors could include increasing recreational opportunities or creating communities that encourage walking.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about childhood obesity.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, Jan. 10, 2003

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