A recent study at Cornell University reveals kids from poor neighborhoods are more likely to suffer from obesity due to a combination of factors beyond genetic predisposition. In fact, children who grow up in disadvantaged neighborhoods are one-third more likely to experience obesity as adults. A large contributor lies in the discrepancies between nutritional food availability in certain communities.
Initial research saw correlations between high rates of obesity predominantly in African-American and Hispanic kids, but recent studies show family income, home values and education matter more in predicting which kids are overweight.
“Growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood sticks with you, and can have a negative impact on one’s health through increasing one’s chance of obesity in adulthood,” according to Steven Alvarado, the assistant professor of sociology at Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences who helmed the study. Alvarado is also penned “The Indelible Weight of Place: Childhood Neighborhood Disadvantage, Timing of Exposure, and Obesity Across Adulthood” published in the July issue of Health & Place,
Alvarado’s research offers a more precise look into the lasting influence a neighborhood can have on unhealthy weight gain.
It’s Not Just Genes
While genes aren’t the sole contributor to obesity, they may take effect later in life, the study reveals. On the other hand, Alvarado saw high parental stress levels associated with household instability could be more responsible for children’s later weight gain.
According to the Cornell Chronicle, “Among respondents followed in the data across different age ranges, that chance is 13% greater among children up to age 10 who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and 29% higher for kids aged 11 to 18, shown in Alvarado’s analysis.”
What’s incredible about Alvarado’s research is his expansion on unobserved factors like comparing siblings, parenting habits, the influence of grandparents through the analysis of first cousins and grandparents’ experiences in segregated schools and neighborhoods.
This combined with a larger national sample brought forth transformational evidence about obesity surfacing in adulthood. Alvarado tracked later weight gain to age 42, paralleling the period of national obesity rise.
The larger idea was to look beyond the stigma that obesity stems from an individual’s genes or unhealthy habits.
Per Alvarado, “We must continue to consider the context in which individuals are making decisions, the neighborhood resources that could serve as catalysts or suppressors for any genetic predispositions toward obesity in adulthood.”
Alvarado said policymakers need to look at teens when it comes to reducing obesity. Ideally, he said, neighborhood-based interventions would transform these odds, “creating places for kids to exercise and play to improving nutritional education and sources of healthy food.”
Low-income communities’ lack of access to play spaces and supermarkets with nutritional food leads stagnancy and the consumption of low nutrition and fast-food. This phenomenon has gained the moniker of “food deserts.”
The Food Empowerment Project defines food deserts as, “geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.”
Dr. Julie Beaulac, a lead contributor to “A Systematic Review of Food Deserts, 1966-2007,” tells Parentology, “Barriers such as poor access to supermarkets and greater access to unhealthy food (e.g., fast food restaurants) likely further amplify health inequalities”
Food deserts are predominantly in low socio-economic areas without access to the proper resources. Contrastingly, wealthy districts have three times as many supermarkets as poor ones do. And, disadvantaged neighborhoods find themselves limited to the food options accessible to them. Instead, these areas have a surplus of fast-food chains or convenience stores selling processed foods.
Obesity in Poor Neighborhoods — Sources
Dr. Julie Beaulac, a lead contributor to “A Systematic Review of Food Deserts
The Indelible Weight of Place: Childhood Neighborhood Disadvantage, Timing of Exposure, and Obesity Across Adulthood
Kids from tough neighborhoods more likely to become obese as adults
Low-income communities more likely to face childhood obesity
A systematic review of food deserts, 1966-2007.
Food Empowerment Project