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Session Summary: Family, School & Neighborhood Predictors of Child Obesity

November 13, 2012 09:01 AM

Four different reports looked at various factors regarding childhood obesity, including dietary behavior, physical education, food pricing, and child care subsidies.

The Impact of Maternal Work on Children's Dietary Behavior and Obesity, by Ashlesha Datar and Victoria Shier of Pardee RAND School, and Nancy Nicosia of RAND Corporation, was the first research to be presented. The study analyzed the effect, if any, the number of maternal work hours had on children’s dietary behaviors, level of physical activity and sedentary behavior, and body mass index (BMI), especially in relation to obesity incidence/rate. Results included finding correlations between more maternal hours and an increased soda and fast food intake (with less fruit, vegetable, and milk intake) and a stronger likelihood of purchasing sweets in school. Overall conclusions showed a strong positive relationship between a mother’s number of work hours and the incidence of childhood obesity, with remarks that this link is based more on a “time effect” than an “income effect.” This association is much stronger in cases of children with relatively higher socioeconomic status (SES), as compared to those children with low SES. The obesity itself was identified as a result of poor dietary choices and sedentary behaviors.

David Frisvold of Emory University, John Cawley of Cornell University, and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University authored The Impact of Physical Education on Obesity Among Elementary School Children, which explored whether additional time spent in school-based Physical Education (PE) reduced obesity. This study is particularly relevant, as its data responds to the U.S. Surgeon General’s recent call for increased PE requirements across the country. Previous to this study, the effects of PE were commonly assumed to have certain positive effects even though there was no actual research data which detailed evidence of the causal effect of PE. Potential worries regarding additional PE time include the possibility that more exercise could prompt more food consumption, and/or the fact that more time does not necessarily equal more active** time. However, researchers here did find that additional time spent in PE reduced BMI, on average, by 2.7%. This finding supports the evident policy implications.

Food Assistance and Children's Eating Patterns, Food Insecurity, and Overweight: The Influence of Food Prices, by researchers Taryn Morrissey, Alison Jacknowitz, and Katie Vinopal, all of American University. The presentation opened by stating that from 2009 to 2012, 26% of two to five year-old children were overweight. In 2011, 21% of households with children were experiencing food insecurity. The main research question focused on whether or not - and to what extent - on average, local food prices impact children’s weight. Findings included the reiteration of previous research that showed a correlation between food prices and an increased level of adult food insecurity. Researchers concluded that higher-priced fruits and vegetables are associated with higher BMIs in children, as well as a higher likelihood that children will be overweight.

State Child Care Subsidy Policies and Child Obesity, by Daniel Miller, Yoonsook Ha, and Jina Chang, of Boston University, was another response to the persistently high rates of overweight and obesity among children aged two to five. The research focus took into special consideration the fact that the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) supported the expansion of welfare reform, in its greater access to regulated child care at a reduced cost. Researchers hypothesized that there could be some correlation between subsidized childcare and incidence and rate of obesity among the children involved. However, the findings were mixed and the only final conclusion was just that: only mixed evidence for effects of subsidy on child obesity.

Contributed by Claire Phelan, Rutgers University


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