Princess in the Prison Tower

Privilege Works in Childhood Obesity

Datar and Chung - Disparities in Childhood Obesity TrendsMuch has been said over the last year about progress against childhood obesity. Both CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have been out front, saying that the childhood obesity rate “has leveled off” and for children ages 2 to 5, it “has dropped since 2003-04.” New data published in JAMA Pediatrics this week suggests that much of this progress may be coming from the benefits of social and economic privileges for the top 20% of the American population.

Ashlesha Datar and Paul Chung analyzed data from a national sample of kindergarten students in the 1998/99 and the 2010/11 school years. These data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics. They found an overall increase in obesity prevalence. But they also found a stark difference in how these trends affected children according to the social and economic status of their parents. The obesity rate for children in the top 20% of social and economic privilege actually showed a decrease, while the rate increased in all other groups.

Unless you only care about kids from wealthy families, it’s definitely not time for a victory dance. Commenting on these findings, UNC’s Asheley Cockrell Skinner said:

The fact that the prevalence of obesity continues to increase for poorer children and not for wealthier children is a real problem. Policymakers and researchers need to appreciate that they can do things for their kids that parents with less resources can’t do for their children.

Taken together with recent data from the Dallas Heart Study, these findings are a wake up call for people who think, as someone recently told us, “we don’t need to understand the root cause of these disparities to solve the childhood obesity problem.”

Maybe obesity really does cause a deficit of curiosity.

Click here to read more from Reuters and here to read the study in JAMA Pediatrics.

Princess in the Prison Tower, illustration by Ivan Bilibin / WikiArt

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