Poor Kids in Bad Shape

Discussion
May 25, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


A new study published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), reinforces what we’ve heard before. Teenagers from poor households are much more likely
to be overweight than their more affluent counterparts.


The study, which looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys through 2004, found that 23.3 percent of kids from poor families between the ages
of 15 and 17 were overweight compared to 14.4 percent of kids that come from homes with higher incomes.


The research found that 15 years-old appeared to be the age when weight differences became pronounced. Children from both poor and affluent households had similar percentages
of overweight children between 12 and 14.


The author of the study, Dr. Richard Miech from Johns Hopkins University, attributed the weight difference on greater degrees of autonomy granted older teenagers.


Kids from poorer households, wrote Dr. Miech, were more likely to go without breakfast, skip physical activity and obtain calories through less nutritious foods and beverages. 


Moderator’s Comment: What do you believe are the causes behind the higher percentage of teenagers from poorer households being overweight? What, if any,
responsibility do food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants selling products or operating in poorer areas have to their customers in terms of providing healthful foods, nutritional
advice, etc.?
– George Anderson – Moderator

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16 Comments on "Poor Kids in Bad Shape"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 9 months ago

Another thought not expressed so far: Overweight people tend to conceive children with other overweight people and produce overweight children because of genetics and lack of nutritional guidance. Additionally, overweight people tend to be less successful (or less hirable) in the workplace, thus facilitating their poverty.

andrew kreinik
Guest
andrew kreinik
14 years 9 months ago

Home economics classes have been discontinued in most schools, there is almost no teaching about nutrition in schools, kids and their parents are inundated with ads about inexpensive fast food, most school lunch programs do not provide healthful eating, schools up until a few weeks ago were actively promoting soda and candies in vending machines in the schools and grocery stores provide little if no nutritional information (not counting what is written on the product packaging). How are people supposed to learn and be able to differentiate between unhealthy eating habits and healthy eating?

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 9 months ago
For all our comments about lifestyle, education, the pressures of our modern frenzied civilisation, bla bla bla (and yes, Race, there is loads of data to support what everyone is saying, few of us are just making guesses), not to mention the whole issue of personal responsibility, Dancer makes an exceedingly good point. When we look at poor children from pre-mid 20th century, they frequently suffered from malnutrition and near starvation. Being overweight was not an issue. There have always been poor people but never before have so many poor people been so overweight. The combination of less exercise and more processed food may be seen as the direct cause but the underlying problems, not least the increasing rate of poverty in allegedly wealthy countries is far more important. Education is a middle class luxury and yes, to whoever mentioned it earlier, this is not the first generation of poor children to not know what they should and shouldn’t be eating. Many of their parents do not realise that they are instilling bad habits. And… Read more »
ethel newbold
Guest
ethel newbold
14 years 9 months ago

I grew up in a poor environment and there were very few overweight children. The different is, we were active, playing games in the street or in front of the apartment building. Walking up and down stairs all day (lived on the fifth floor)…there was little money for junk food, no fast food restaurants…responsible for household chores…walked to school…parks were safe to play in. Breakfast, most of the time, was a must (cornflakes, oatmeal, grits and a big breakfast on Sunday). All meals were at home, balanced with grains, vegetables and meat or fish. I learned how to cook when I was in junior high school so we (my sisters) prepared the food while my mother worked. Of course, we watched TV, but I love playing my music and practicing the latest dances. We had church programs, a neighborhood girl scout leader and after school dances.

Brian Stuk
Guest
Brian Stuk
14 years 9 months ago

What is the downside to being overweight when one is poor and one never gives the future a passing thought? It is like another “disease.” To be forward thinking is easy for people who look forward to the future or at least not dread the future consciously or subconsciously. It comes down to individual choice, but what choice can be made when the pallet is filled with bleak colors?

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 9 months ago

What is the cause of poorer kids being overweight? Everyone who has commented so far presents many good possibilities. I would prefer, though, to have real data that can answer this question rather than have us all speculate.

As George mentioned, and I supposed we all know, this is not a new issue. I am aware of many studies looking into this problem. And yet none of the interventions that are being tried so far seems to be working all that well. This leads me to think that despite all the studying and speculation, we don’t know the actual, “actionable” causes of this problem yet.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Protein is more expensive than carbohydrates. “Healthy” food doesn’t make it into the bodegas; it’s expensive, and moves slowly. School and government spending cuts have reduced opportunities for organized sports (including indoor, such as basketball). Less parental control because of single-parent homes and/or need to work crazy hours to stay afloat. There are no quick fixes, and at this point I see things getting worse rather than getting better. This is more societal; little real impact can be made by the food companies via new products or advertising.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 9 months ago
People are usually poor due to personal responsibility issues that tend to get passed down from one generation to the next. Being overweight is just one of many social problems that come as a result of being poor. The poor are also more likely to smoke, play the lottery, and have alcohol and drug problems. Do food manufacturers have a responsibility? Perhaps, but no more responsibility than what the cigarette and alcoholic beverage producers have. Does the State Lottery Commission have a responsibility to educate the poor on what a bad gamble the lottery is? So it’s probably not going to happen. The government can do some things, like eliminate the free breakfast and lunch programs at schools. The programs are well meaning but school budgets are tight and healthy food is normally replaced by pizza and hamburgers. Next would be to eliminate junk food from the Food Stamp program. If the poor want free food, then it should be healthy food. Then the kids can pack their own lunch for school.
Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

This problem of overweight children reflects changing attitudes about exercise, junk food and the lack of education about healthy foods. It is obvious that the focus on education is stronger in the more affluent households. This plays out when we start to examine self-image and eating habits, especially as children enter their teenage years. The impact becomes more severe, as is noted by the article when children can start to have a greater impact on their lifestyle and what they eat (and do/exercise). Given these decisions, the lack of strong role models and education and we have greater abuse of food in teenagers. The key to eliminating this is stronger education and more powerful role models in children’s lives. How we deliver these elements is another story….

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 9 months ago
I just got to thinking, you need to be 18 and have an ID to buy beer, cigarettes, or a lottery ticket. Yet a 5 year old can have a birthday party at McDonald’s. Do young children really have the ability to make healthy choices? What if no children under 18 were allowed in fast food restaurants without a parent or guardian? The school lunch problem is easily solved. Just serve smaller portions of more healthy foods and eliminate junk food from the menu. Also is the problem about being poor? Or is it really about being too rich? In our country all poor people can get enough Food Stamps to buy more than enough food to survive on. So no one in our country is really poor when it comes to food. I’m quite certain that anyone who gets Food Stamps could go to Whole Foods and not suffer from malnutrition. Food is dirt cheap in this country. Everyone complains about gas prices but no one ever complains that potato chips are too expensive.
Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 9 months ago

I agree with the previous comments. I think it is a matter of priorities as well. When you are just trying to survive life in an impoverished and probably dangerous environment it is hard to be as concerned with healthful food choices. I wonder if the parents of these kids aren’t more overweight as well? The point of that thought is that they may not have received a proper education either and therefore aren’t very well equipped to educate their kids or set a good example. It is a viscous cycle that is not easy to correct. Single parent homes have more difficulty being available to supervise their children too.

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

My sense of it is that it is a multi-determined outcome. For one, the food choices are more likely to be “fast food” or snack-y type items or perhaps less costly frozen foods that are not the most “healthful.” Secondly, the fear of having kids outside exercising because of the dangerous neighborhoods probably keeps the kids inside and away from physical activity (whereas the suburban kid is “forced” to the organized soccer, little league or other activities by “Mom.”). Thirdly, since there probably is a higher incidence of single parent homes and/or both parents working to support the family – the kids are left alone to make their own food choice decisions and they opt for taste over health. Fourth, and this is a guess – the kids seek comfort in food because of the alienated lifestyle they lead (fear, prejudice, lack of parental involvement, etc.).

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 9 months ago
There is some interesting new research from CASA (www.CASAFamilyDay.org), the National Center of Addiction, on the importance of family dinners in decreasing the likelihood of cigarette, alcohol and drug use in children and improving academic performance by youth. Their research also shows that teens who eat dinner with their families often are likelier to do well in school and develop healthy eating habits. This pattern holds true regardless of a teen’s sex, family structure or family socioeconomic level. I strongly believe that food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants have a responsibility to address the nation’s growing obesity problem, which includes teens and adults. I would not advocate programs geared only to poorer areas, as I think the responsibility is broader than that. By addressing ethnic differences in foods and lifestyles, industry can promote healthful choices. Consumer education, clear labeling of products, greater choices of healthy products and meals, in store nutritionists, partnering with neighborhood organizations and churches, synagogues, etc. and promoting physical activity can make a difference. Whole Foods recent partnering with schools for healthier school… Read more »
Jerry Tutunjian
Guest
Jerry Tutunjian
14 years 9 months ago

This is a huge and complicated issue. Foremost, it’s a societal issue. With the countless challenges the grocery industry is facing these days, I don’t see how grocery can contribute to any resolution in an effective way. I think the only contribution a grocer can make, albeit on a minute scale, is a local one, rather than an industry-wide program. Individual grocery operators can “adopt” neighbourhood needy teenagers, educate them about nutritional habits, perhaps even give them a part-time job.

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
14 years 9 months ago

It’s easier to see in others, especially those of lower status. But think of this.

Many readers of RetailWire are in the business of selling food. Their interest is in getting people to spend more money on it. So OK, ideas suggested, such as needing more exercise – which just burns more calories and increases the demand for replacement – or not suggested, like food addiction, or pseudo science from the Weston A. Price Foundation about the need for protein, calcium, etc. – everything sells food. But how about personal advice for us readers? Our families? Do we actually believe our own stories?

I call this phenomenon “survival of the fittest.” Anyone dumb enough to believe their own lies deserves a short, unhealthy life.

My bet – people in the PR profession are also disproportionately overweight.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

The food business is profit-driven just like any other business. If managements saw that healthier foods drove higher profits, they’d push healthier foods. To some extent, that’s happening already, although it certainly isn’t the majority stance of the food business. Right now it’s cheaper for a person to eat weight-building foods than otherwise. So poor people are heavier. I doubt this is an education issue.

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