Growing Up Poor May Increase Risk of Obesity

New research on the social determinants of health reveals that the length of time children and young adults live in poor neighborhoods, the more likely they will be obese later in life.

University of Colorado Denver researchers discovered adolescents who grow up and consistently live in poor neighborhoods are more likely to become or remain obese in adulthood than their peers who live in more affluent areas.

Sadly, these patterns are more pronounced for young women.

Dr. Adam Lippert, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, lead the study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Lippert examined national survey data from students in grades seven through 12 that were followed over a period of 13 years.

He discovered the odds of becoming obese varied for young men and women as they entered, exited or consistently lived in poor neighborhoods during the transition to adulthood.

The study shows that when teens move out of low-income neighborhoods, their risk of obesity decreases, while moving into a poor neighborhood increases the risk.

And consistently living in poor areas puts young people at greatest risk for becoming or remaining obese in the future.

Experts say this is one of a few recent studies to illustrate the health consequences of residential inequalities in the U.S.

Still, how does living in a poor neighborhood increase the risk of obesity? Researchers hypothesize that the link between poverty and obesity is partially attributed to the lack of exercise amenities, healthy food sources and increased stress in low-income areas.

“The research demonstrates that the long-term residential experiences of teenagers can affect their lifelong health,” said Lippert.

“It’s encouraging to see that the risk of obesity can be curtailed by moving out of a low-income areas.”

Lippert’s results suggest that providing teenagers with resources to improve their residential circumstances as they enter adulthood can positively impact their life and health.

Source: University of Colorado Denver