Does the income level of a neighborhood have an effect on the rate of childhood obesity in that area? According to recent study, it just might. Researchers at Rice University recently completely a study involving over 17,000 subjects and determined that kids living in low-income neighborhoods may be more likely to develop childhood obesity. The team of researchers looked at 5-year-old children in about 4,700 different neighborhoods across the United States. They found that children living in poorer areas had about a 28% higher chance of developing childhood obesity than their counterparts in wealthy neighborhoods. Even children living in middle-income neighborhoods were at a 17% increased risk than those in the more affluent communities.
Potential Causes of Increased Levels of Childhood Obesity in Low-Income Neighborhoods
While the report from Rice University didn’t speculate as to why kids in lower-income neighborhoods were more likely to suffer from childhood obesity, the Centers for Disease Control attributes it to several factors.
- Children in low-income neighborhoods typically have less access to healthy foods. Families on a tight budget often cannot afford the healthier, whole, organic foods that can help prevent childhood obesity. The sad fact is, in America, eating healthy often costs more than eating convenient foods loading with calories, fat, and preservatives.
- Low-income neighborhoods typically have fewer open areas for children to play in, and those that do exist may not be safe. With fewer sidewalks, parks, and backyards, children in these areas don’t really have as much of an opportunity to get out and play. Some neighborhoods also suffer from an increased crime rate, which means even if there are parks and outdoor spaces; they may not be safe options.
Helping Low-Income Families Prevent Childhood Obesity
Helping children in these neighborhoods gain access to healthy foods and more physical playtime needs to be a priority to help curb the childhood obesity epidemic. The most important step in preventing childhood obesity among low-income neighborhoods is to make sure the children have access to healthy food options. Free or reduced school lunch programs coupled with initiatives to ensure healthier meals are served at school ensure that children are getting at least one solid, healthy meal each day. Programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) provide fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and healthy protein sources to children under age 5 and pregnant or nursing women.
Getting kids active is also a vital part of preventing childhood obesity. Ensuring that kids have access to a safe play area is one way to help. With a little assistance and funding, neighborhoods can band together to build a safe park for children to play in. Reduced membership fees at organizations like the YMCA can also help give kids a chance to become more active. Sadly, many schools have practically eliminated the best option for getting kids active in a safe environment: recess. In some elementary schools, recess has been cut down to 15 minutes a day.
Preventing childhood obesity is a task that falls on everyone involved, from the parents to the community as a whole. If everyone works together, this epidemic can be cured.