Dr. Whitaker says there is an obvious "disparity" of obesity rates by race
A new study published in the June 2006 issue of the scientific journal The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that Hispanic 3-year-old children are much more likely to be obese than their African-American and Caucasian counterparts.
Lead researchers Dr. Robert C. Whitaker and Sean M. Orzol, both from Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. in Princeton, New Jersey, observed 2452 children born in 75 hospitals over 20 U.S. cities between 1998 to 2000 who were part of the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study.
The mothers involved were surveyed at birth, one year after birth and three years after birth answering questions regarding their ethnic background, education level, income level and access to food. This information was determined using the US Household Food Security Survey Module.
Over the three-year study, Dr. Whitaker and his research team measured the height and weight of the children born to the mothers in the study. Their body mass index (BMI) was measured and children with a BMI at the 95th percentile or higher for their age and sex were considered obese for this study.
The researchers wanted to try to pinpoint when obesity among various races and ethnic groups begins with their study, which included 19 percent Caucasian, 52.2 percent African-American, and 25.4 percent Hispanic children. The other 3.1 percent were another race or ethnicity.
As for the mothers in the study, 41 percent had at least some college or vocational education, 52.9 percent had income above poverty, and 79.5 percent of their children had full access to food.
At the end of the study, 18.4 percent of the children, or nearly 1 in 5 of them had become obese. Here was the breakdown for each race:
Hispanic - 25.8%
African-American - 16.2%
Caucasian - 14.8%
The conclusion of the researchers is that Hispanic children have a significantly higher risk of becoming obese than African-American and Caucasian children do. Even when the researchers adjusted the numbers to account for the mother's education level, household income, and access to food, the same results were found.
Dr. Whitaker said more research will be needed to analyze further why there is such a "disparity in obesity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic children" early in life.
"This research might benefit from more emphasis on qualitative studies across racial/ethnic groups of those cultural factors that can influence energy balance, such as how young children are nourished or spend their time," the authors note in the study.
One factor that was not mentioned in the study is the possibility that Hispanic parents have a different standard for what is deemed healthy for their children. Many of these families have lived in poverty in other countries and may see having a tummy as a sign of prosperity whereas African-American and Caucasian families would see that same level of being overweight as unhealthy. It's an idea that certainly warrants further study in future research.
Now that Hispanics have overtaken African-Americans as the largest minority in the United States, the results of this study are that much more important. What are we going to do to help educate Latinos about healthy living principles and will this information be readily available in a format they can understand? I know the illegal immigration and English as an official language topics are both very hot political issues right now, but the reality is we need to deal with this very real problem that will not go away on its own.
This study was funded by the Economic Research Service, the US Department of Agriculture, and the National Institutes of Health, among other private foundation donors.
You can e-mail Dr. Robert C. Whitaker about his study at firstname.lastname@example.org.