Table of Content
Socioeconomic Status and Childhood Obesity
Neighborhood Environments and Childhood Obesity
Physical Activity and Sedentary Lifestyle
Childhood obesity is seemingly becoming an enormous epidemiological challenge to the global healthcare system. In the past decade, prevalence rates of childhood obesity have assumed upward trends, in which developed countries records the highest percentages of obese and overweight children. However, prevalence rates in developing countries are increasing at a slow phase but, the overall obese children population remains relatively low. Lim and Wang state that, “Childhood obesity has become a global public health crisis. The prevalence is highest in western and industrialized countries but, [it is] still low in some developing countries” (p.176).
World Health Organization epidemiological reports indicate that, in 2010, a global population of 43 million children was identified to be overweight or obese, whereas an estimated population of 93 million children was at a risk of becoming overweight. In 2010, America was found to be having the highest percentage of overweight and obese children with prevalence rates ranging between 30-40% and, Europe was second with prevalence rates ranging between 20-30%. On the other hand, prevalence rates of childhood obesity, in Asia and Africa ranged from 10-20% 1. In the U.S, prevalence rates of childhood obesity are have been found to have increased by three-folds in the past three decades; thus, Kogan and colleagues report, “Because of a relatively high current prevalence and a rapidly increasing trend, obesity in childhood and adolescence continues to be recognized as a major U.S. public health problem”  (p.503). These trends are attributable to an array of demographic factors but, social economic status of the population has been found to influence all the obesity risk factors.
Therefore, this research will give an overview of the correlation between Socioeconomic Status (SES) and childhood obesity. Although there are many factors that put children at risk for childhood obesity, Social Economic Status (SES) seems to affect all risk factors that are responsible for the increase in childhood obesity.
Socioeconomic Status and Childhood Obesity
The increasing prevalence trends of childhood obesity have attracted immense health concern among healthcare agencies. Charles and Lauzon reaffirm that, “childhood obesity is a major healthcare concern, although the majority of obese or overweight children have no medical complications specific disorders can occur in the case of severe obesity and some subclinical disorders are more common in obese children” (par. 1). As a result, extensive epidemiological studies are currently on the increase to ascertain the underlying principal risk factors and, most study findings indicate that Socioeconomic Status (SES) is to blame for the unprecedented increase in childhood obesity among the global population.
It has been found out that the risk factors of childhood obesity are significantly influenced by the socioeconomic status of different households and communities and, the prevalence trends exhibit various demographic inequalities. Ordinarily, obesity is known to be among the so-called ‘life-style diseases’, also referred to as non-communicable diseases in clinical jargon. As such, it is highly influenced by the people’s social life. In addition, economic factors have also been found to contribute significantly to the prevalence of childhood obesity, especially with regard to the income status of households in different geographical regions. Ulijaszek states, “Socioeconomic status has two closely related dimensions. The economic one is represented by financial wealth while the social one can incorporate education, occupational prestige, authority and community standing” (p.1).
It is true to assert that, the prevalence of childhood obesity among children and adolescents is influenced by the Social economic status aspect, more or less, the same way as it occurs among the adults; thus, childhood obesity and Social economic status intertwines in a synergistic manner.
Recent demographic reports indicate that, high social economic status is associated to a reduced prevalence of childhood obesity. In contrast, children from households with low social economic status have been found to be adversely affected by childhood obesity. Childhood prevalence rates are relatively high among children from communities with low social economic status, whereas those from communities with high social economic status record low prevalence rates. Ulijaszek reaffirms, “In industrialized societies, obesity is a characteristic of lower social and economic classes, having been associated with higher classes prior to widespread economic prosperity” 4 (p.1). This aspect is also evidenced by supported by a research report released by the Canadian Journal of Public Health, “The percentage of overweight children varied from 24% in areas with high socioeconomic status to 35% in low socioeconomic neighborhoods” (par. 4).
Neighborhood Environments and Childhood Obesity
The influence of social economic status on the prevalence of childhood obesity can be explained by the situation in the United States. Recent epidemiological reports in the U.S explain the correlation of these two elements and, the findings justify that all the risk factors for childhood obesity among the global population are related to the social economic status of different communities. However, it is worth noting that social economic status determines the social and economic aspect of the society but, the observed epidemiological disparities are attributable to an array of social and economic factors. Some of these issues include demographic changes and health transition among different communities in different regions.
In the United States, demographic factors vary significantly with regions and ethnicity; thus, prevalence trends of obesity have been studied under diverse dimensions, especially with regard to the people’s neighborhood environment and social stratification of the U.S population. Neighborhood influences on the prevalence rates of obesity and overweight, in the United States, are seemingly conspicuous, especially with regard to the people’s economic income and the educational level. Kogan et.al also reports, “Neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation has also been associated with increased risks of obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity among Canadian and U.K. children and adolescents” 2 (p.504). Therefore, neighborhood social economic conditions are believed to be among the principal factors enhancing the increase of childhood obesity and overweight, in the United States. Kogan and colleagues add that, “The odds of a child’s being obese or overweight were 20–60 percent higher among children in neighborhoods with the most unfavorable social conditions” 2 (p.503). Moreover, other significant determinants of the prevalence trends childhood obesity are the ‘built environments’, which influence children’s level of physical activity.
Epidemiological reports indicate that, childhood obesity has manifested different prevalence trends in the past decade but, there is a correlation between the risk of obesity and the neighborhood environments. For instance, in 2007, the total percentage of obese and overweight, in the United States were found to be 16.4 percent and 31.6 percent respectively, with reference to children aged between 10 to 17 years. The impact of the children’s neighborhood was evidenced by the epidemiological differences in the prevalence and incidence rates of childhood obesity. In a number of epidemiological studies conducted by several health agencies revealed an unprecedented inequality in healthcare, especially with regard to the prevalence patterns of childhood obesity, in which children who were living in neighborhoods with the least favorable social conditions were found to face an increased obesity risk than their counterparts living in neighborhoods with favorable social conditions. Statistics indicated that, 37 % of children living in neighborhoods with the least favorable social conditions were overweight, whereas obesity accounted for 20% of the total population in unfavorable environments. In contrast, children living in neighborhoods with favorable social conditions recorded reduced obesity prevalence percentages, in which 29.8% were found to be overweight, whereas obese children accounted for 14.7% of the total population of children in the concerned environment 2.
In general, the risk of obesity among children living in unfavorable neighborhoods was found to be 61% higher that the case recorded among children living in environments with favorable social conditions. In addition, overweight risk rates among children living in favorable neighborhoods were 43% lower compared to the increased risks in their counterparts in unsafe neighborhoods. Unfavorable social conditions such as garbage and poor housing were found to have a significant contribution to the increased obesity risks among children living in unsafe neighborhoods. In regard to unfavorable social conditions in the neighborhood, the risk of obesity to children living in unsafe environments were found to be 29% higher than the trends recorded among their counterparts in safe environments. It was ascertained that, the observed differences in the obesity risk rates were attributable to socio-demographic risk factors. Kogan and colleagues remarked, “The excess obesity and overweight risks associated with unfavorable neighborhood social conditions were explained by differences in individual level socio-demographic and behavioral risk factors” 2 (p.507).
Physical Activity and Sedentary Lifestyle
In regard to physical inactivity among children, prevalence rates of childhood obesity are usually different between active and inactive children. Ordinarily, inactivity and sedentary lifestyle are among the predisposing factors of obesity across all ages. Charles and Lauzon explain, “The epidemic of obesity has developed concomitantly with a decrease in physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities” 3 (par. 5). However, it is worth noting that the prevalence and incidence rates vary significantly, especially with regard to gender and professional occupations.
Therefore, prevalence trends of childhood obesity among children are immensely influence by the children’s access to recreational amenities. Recent epidemiological reports reveal that access to recreational amenities influences the physical activity of children. This is evidenced by surveys, which showed that prevalence rates of obesity among children who do not have access to sidewalks are 32% likely to become obese compared to their counterparts with access to sidewalks and walking paths. In addition, access to community centers and playgrounds has been found to influence the prevalence of childhood obesity, in which the higher rates 20% and 26% respectively are reported among children with no access to these amenities compared to those who have access 2.
In regard to access to health promoting amenities, prevalence rates of obesity among children with access to health promoting amenities has been found to be 20.6% compared to the increased percentage of 32.4% recorded among children with limited access to health promoting amenities. On the other hand, overweight prevalence rates have been found to exhibit the same trends, in which children with access to health promoting amenities record 38.5% whereas those with limited access to these amenities record an increased rate of 49.5%. However, it is worth noting that, prevalence rates of childhood obesity varies significantly between girls and boys. Girls have been found to be highly vulnerable to obesity in both situations compared to the boys. Recent health reports indicate that girls living in environments with limited access to health promoting amenities experienced an increased obesity risk of 19.2% compared to 10.4% recorded among girls with access to health promoting amenities.
Leisure has also been found to influence the prevalence of obesity among children. Epidemiological surveys have revealed the underlying correlation between children’s leisure and obesity. The time spent by children watching television programs and videos have been found to be one of the most significant determinants on the prevalence of overweight and obesity.
Children who spent the greatest percentage of their time sitting in front of televisions have increased obesity risks, compared to those who consume least time watching televisions. Kogan and his colleagues reaffirmed this aspect by stating, “Children who watched television more than two hours per day had 46 percent higher odds of obesity and 51 percent higher odds of overweight than those who watched television less than one hour per day” 2 (p.509). This occurrence has been justified with the tendency of consuming increased amounts of calories rich diets such as snacks. Moreover, the reduced percentage of time spent by these children in doing physical activities contributes to the increased incidences of obesity and overweight 3.
Another social economic status aspect, which influences the prevalence of obesity among children, is the income status of different social classes in the society. Epidemiological surveys conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from 2005 to 2008 indicated that the prevalence of childhood obesity was correlated to the income status of different households and, this revelation was found to be relatively the same to the situation experienced among the adults. These surveys showed that children from low-income households recorded high prevalence rates of obesity compared to their counterparts from medium and high-income households. In the CDC reports, boys from households with income status below 130% of the poverty level were found to have a higher obesity prevalence compared to those living from households whose income status were 350% of the poverty level. Statistics indicated that boys from low-income households accounted for 21.1% of the total number of obese children, by 2010, whereas those from high-income households accounted for a reduced prevalence rate of 11.9%. On the other hand, prevalence of obesity among girls living in households whose income status were below 130% of the poverty level was found to be 19.3% compared to 12.0% recorded by girls from households with incomes status above 350% of the poverty level 6.
In general, the total number of obese children, in the United States comprises of different percentages of children from different household categories. Children from households with income status above 350% of the poverty level constituted the lowest prevalence rate, constituting for 24% (3 million) of the total population of obese children. The remaining 78% (9 million) constituted of children from households whose income status was below 350% of the poverty level, in the U.S. However, it is worth noting that, the prevalence rates among children from households with income status categories of 350%-130% and below 130% of the poverty level were relatively the same 6.
Prevalence of Childhood Obesity and Poverty Income Ratio
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Economic status of households seems to contribute significantly to the influence of social economic status (SES), especially with regard to the prevalence of childhood obesity because; the household’s financial status determines the dietary regime adopted by the respective households. Ordinarily, low-income households tend to adopt fat-rich diets, whereas high-income households adopt low-fat dietary regimes. Consequently, children from low-income households who consume high amounts of fat-rich diets are at a higher risk of obesity compared to their counterparts from high-income households. It is also worth noting that, the prevalence trends of overweight among children in these two poverty income ratio categories are, more or less, the same as those of obesity.
Moreover, educational status of the heads of households and the level of literacy among children and adolescents contributes significantly to the increasing trends of childhood obesity. In most cases, children from households headed by individuals less education are more likely to become obese than their counterparts from those headed by individuals with a college degree and above. This aspect is reaffirmed by epidemiological report prepared by Carroll and her colleagues who explained, “Children and adolescents living in households where the head of household has a college degree are less likely to be obese compared with those living in households where the household head has less education” 6 (par. 1).
Recent epidemiological studies reveal that boys and girls from households headed by an individual who possess undergraduate or graduate constitute for 11.8% and 8% respectively, whereas those from households headed by individuals with education level of undergraduate account for 21.1% and 20.4% for boys and girls respectively. Further epidemiological reports show that, children from households headed by parents without a high school education were 169% likely to become obese compared to those brought up by parents who have attained college education 2. Therefore, it is true to state that, the prevalence of childhood obesity increases with an increase of the educational status of the head of the household 6.
In a brief conclusion, it seems true to assert that, SES influences all childhood obesity risk factors because; the prevalence trends of the diseases correlates with the socio-demographic factors. The unprecedented increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity among the global population can be attributed to the increase of socioeconomic inequalities. Some of the most significant socio-demographic factors, which influence the prevalence of childhood obesity, are the social conditions of the so-called ‘built environments’, economic income status and educational status.
From an analytical perspective, a synergistic intertwining of unsafe neighborhood, low-income status and low educational status enhance the prevalence of childhood obesity within different households in the global community. In contrast, safe neighborhood combined with high income and educational statuses decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity and overweight. Although there are many factors that put children at risk for childhood obesity, SES (Social Economic Standing) seems to affect all risk factors that are responsible for the increase in childhood obesity.
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 Kogan M. et.al. Neighborhood Socioeconomic Conditions, Built Environments, And Childhood Obesity. Health Affairs 2010; 29(3): 503–512. http://gethealthysmc.org/sites/default/files/docs/Publications/Health%20Affairs%20-%20Childhood%20Obesity%20and%20SES%20and%20BE.pdf (Accessed 24 March 2014).
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