FRIDAY, Nov. 16, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Children in poor neighborhoods are more likely to be obese than those in middle-class or rich neighborhoods, according to a new study.
Researchers looked at more than 17,500 5-year-old children in about 4,700 neighborhoods across the United States. Compared to children in wealthy areas, those in middle-class areas had a 17 percent greater risk of obesity, and those in poor neighborhoods had a 28 percent greater risk, the investigators found.
The findings held regardless of factors such as individual household income and how much television children watched, the Rice University researchers said.
Obesity risk also was higher among children in neighborhoods with lower levels of education, while living in neighborhoods with a high percentage of foreign-born residents was associated with a 20 percent reduced risk of obesity, the study authors found.
The findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine.
"We know there are characteristics specific to families and individual children that are associated with obesity," study co-author Justin Denney, associate director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research's Urban Health Program, said in a Rice University news release. "Those relationships are pretty well understood at this point, but less well understood are community influences such as the social and demographic characteristics of the places people live."
"Neighborhood poverty is associated with childhood obesity above and beyond the poverty status of the child's family and other individual and family characteristics," Denney said. "This tells us there is something about the community that is also influencing childhood obesity."
The findings suggest that neighborhood-wide programs, as well as individual-level efforts, are needed to combat the child obesity epidemic in the United States, the researchers said.
Nearly 32 percent of U.S. children aged 2 to 19 years are overweight or obese, the study authors pointed out in the news release.
Although the study found an association between childhood obesity and neighborhood economic and education status, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about overweight and obesity in children.