Pasadena Researchers Find Higher Risk for Becoming Overweight Among Youth in Income Neighborhoods

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 | 1:48 am

A Pasadena-based medical research organization recently released a study that links low income levels with increased risk of adolescents being overweight or obese.

The study, done by Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Research and Evaluation, found that there is an increased risk for becoming overweight or obese among 18-year-old of current normal weight who live in neighborhoods with lower education or income levels.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years and the conditions of the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age affect a wide range of quality-of-life outcomes, including weight.

“Emerging adulthood is a critical time period for excess weight gain due to a variety of factors, including many teenagers leaving home for college and having more freedom and access to food,” said Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, senior author and director of behavioral research for Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Department of Research and Evaluation in a statement released to the press. “Our study found that living in a disadvantaged place puts teens at an increased risk for being overweight or obese. Although we did not explore potential reasons for this increase, factors may include cultural norms, as well as lack of access to public parks and grocery stores.”

The study examined the independent effects that gender, race/ethnicity, education and income had on being overweight or obese. The electronic health records of over 22,000 diverse Kaiser Permanente members in Southern California who were 18 years old in 2008 were analyzed for a period of four years.

The study also based the definition of “overweight” and “obese” on sex and sometimes ethnicity-specific body mass index (BMI) charts developed by the CDC. All those who were studied were considered of average body weight, which means they had BMIs of 25 or under. However the threshold for “normal” for Asians is 23, a recommendation made by the World Health Organization, which demonstrated that risks associated with obesity occur at this BMI for Asians compared to other racial groups.

The study’s results showed that over the course of four years, 23 percent of the people who were normal weight went on to become overweight and two percent of them went on to become obese. Also, females and African-Americans had 1.7 and 1.3 times the increased risk compared to males and Caucasians, respectively. When using a BMI of 23 for their average, Asians and Pacific Islanders were nearly three times more likely to become overweight, according to the study.

“This study suggests that a teenager who is currently at a healthy weight can still be at risk of becoming overweight or obese in a short period of time. This seems especially of concern in the presence of a variety of socioeconomic factors,” said Young. “In addition, it is important to use the lower BMI for Asians to ensure we are identifying individuals who may be at risk for obesity and related conditions such as diabetes.”


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