Studies: Children obese due to a host of unhealthy pressures

September 25, 2007

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Unhealthy options and pressures influence nearly every part of children's daily lives, according to studies released this week in a special supplement of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The national studies, which include work conducted at the University of Michigan, reveal that, in most middle and high schools across the nation, contracts with soft drink bottling companies give students easy access to sugary beverages.

Low- versus high-income neighborhoods have a higher proportion of their restaurants serving fast foods and have fewer supermarkets and more convenience stores at which to buy their groceries. In the media, television advertisements steer kids to spend their money on junk food, and minority students get considerably more such exposure, the studies showed.

For the special supplement, Bridging the Gap, a national research program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and based at U-M and the University of Illinois at Chicago, produced a groundbreaking collection of evidence on factors that contribute to the escalating rates of childhood obesity.

The studies offer new insight about how current school policies, neighborhood characteristics and advertising collectively impact the childhood obesity epidemic---and together create an overwhelmingly unhealthy environment for young people.

A study by U-M Distinguished Research Scientist Lloyd Johnston and colleagues finds that the vast majority of middle schools (67 percent) and high schools (83 percent) have contracts with a soft drink bottling company, which in many cases gives students access to soft drinks all day long.

Estimates of the median annual revenue for soft drink contracts in high schools turn out to be $6,000 ($6.48 per student), while for middle schools the annual revenue is about $500 (70 cents per student).

"The financial benefits of school contracts are modest in relation to the health threat that soft drink promotions entail, and clearly the problem is most serious at the high school level," Johnston said.

Other studies by the U-M team found that physical education is lacking among older students. The average number of minutes students spend in PE each week drops from 172 minutes in 8th grade to 89 minutes in 12th grade, by which time only a third of students are even taking a gym class at some time during the school year.

Minority students from lower socioeconomic levels attend schools in which fewer students are involved in varsity sports, quite possibly because such schools have fewer resources available to offer a full range of sports and the exercise that goes with them.

The U-M studies also show evidence of unhealthy school nutrition policies and serious disparities across racial/ethnic lines and across different socioeconomic levels: U-M's Patrick O'Malley and colleagues found that in the 10 percent of schools that have the least overweight students, one in 10 students are overweight, on average, whereas in the 10 percent of all schools with the greatest problem, fully 44 percent of their students are overweight, on average.

"Research is showing us that we have in our schools and communities a perfect storm that will continue to feed the childhood obesity epidemic until we adopt policies that improve the health of our communities and our kids," said Frank Chaloupka, head of the University of Illinois at Chicago research team.

The UIC researchers found that, outside of school, it does not get much easier for kids to consume a healthy diet. Too many kids live in neighborhoods where fast-food restaurants and convenience stores far outnumber supermarkets. This is especially true in lower-income communities.

UIC economist Lisa Powell found a statistically significant association between the availability of supermarkets and lower adolescent and overweight status. In addition, Powell found a statistically significant association between the availability of convenience stores and higher overweight status.

"In communities where convenience stores outnumber supermarkets and fast-food restaurants are particularly prevalent, we're making it extremely difficult for parents and kids to eat balanced, healthy diets," Powell said. "These families simply don't have easy access to affordable fresh foods."

Powell and her colleagues also found that high-income neighborhoods have a significantly lower proportion of fast-food restaurants than do lower-income neighborhoods. There are also racial disparities: predominantly African-American urban neighborhoods have a significantly higher proportion of fast-food restaurants out of total restaurants compared with predominantly white urban neighborhoods.

"I think that the role of the environment in bringing about the epidemic of overweight among our children is still not fully appreciated," Johnston said. "There are many influences in our schools, communities and the media that contribute significantly to the problem and that can be changed for the better. If we don't make those changes, the consequences in terms of the health, longevity and the health care costs of our newest generations are going to be staggering."
-end-
About Bridging the Gap Bridging the Gap, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is a joint project of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Health Research and Policy and the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. It is intended to improve our understanding of the role of policy and environmental factors in youth alcohol consumption, illicit drug and tobacco use, as well as diet and physical activity. Bridging the Gap also evaluates the effectiveness of policies and changes in environmental conditions in reducing substance use and obesity among youth. For more information, visit www.impact0een.org and www.yesresearch.org.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.

University of Michigan

Related Childhood Obesity Articles from Brightsurf:

A novel approach to childhood obesity prevention
A novel taxonomic approach to obesity prevention using existing U.S.

Probiotics may help manage childhood obesity
Probiotics may help children and adolescents with obesity lose weight when taken alongside a calorie-controlled diet, according to a study being presented at e-ECE 2020.

Study: COVID-19 lockdowns worsen childhood obesity
Lockdowns implemented across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted diet, sleep and physical activity among children with obesity, according to University at Buffalo research.

COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate childhood obesity
Public health scientists predict that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States.

Biomarker in saliva predicts childhood obesity risk
The intriguing discovery, reported in the journal BMC Medical Genetics, supports ongoing efforts to identify biomarkers associated with the emergence of childhood obesity before body mass index (BMI) is designated as obese, said Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, director of Pediatric Obesity Research at Monroe Carell Jr.

Does antibiotic use during pregnancy and infancy impact childhood obesity?
New findings published in Obesity reveal that use of antibiotics during pregnancy does not appear to affect children's weight in subsequent years, but use during infancy may increase their risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Study examines childhood weight and obesity in adolescence
A new Pediatric Obesity study reveals how excess weight at age 3 years was associated with a higher risk of being overweight or obese at age 15 years in a study of adolescents in Japan.

New study unravels the complexity of childhood obesity
In a new study led by the University of Notre Dame, researchers examined how various psychological characteristics of children struggling with their weight, such as loneliness, anxiety and shyness, combined with similar characteristics of their parents or guardians and family dynamics affect outcomes of nutritional intervention.

Impact of lifestyle behaviors in early childhood on obesity
Adhering to a healthy lifestyle at age 4 years is associated with a decreased risk of overweight, obesity, and abdominal obesity at 7 years, according to a study published in Pediatric Obesity.

Gut bacteria is key factor in childhood obesity
New information published by scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Health suggests that gut bacteria and its interactions with immune cells and metabolic organs, including fat tissue, play a key role in childhood obesity.

Read More: Childhood Obesity News and Childhood Obesity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.