Expert Commentary

Disparities in obesity patterns among adolescents

2010 study by researchers from UCSF, the University of Oklahoma and UC Berkeley on the prevalence of obesity among California public school students.

Obesity presents serious health risks at all ages, but is particularly worrisome in children and youth. In addition to having a greater chance of becoming obese in adulthood, obese children and adolescents are also more likely to contract cardiovascular diseases compared to their peers.

A 2010 study published in Pediatrics, “Disparities in Peaks, Plateaus, and Declines in Prevalence of High BMI Among Adolescents,” analyzed the prevalence of obesity among more than 8 million public school students in California between 2001 and 2008.  While the prevalence of high body mass index (BMI) has declined in aggregate terms, the researchers — from the University of California, Berkeley, University of California, San Francisco, and University of Oklahoma — found that rates varied with ethnicity.

The study’s findings are as follows:

  • Throughout the period of study, obesity rates continued to rise for African-American and American-Indian girls, while the obesity rates for non-Hispanic white girls peaked in 2005 and then dropped to 2001 prevalence levels.
  • In 2008, black, Hispanic, and American Indian girls were two to three times more likely to have high BMI compared to non-Hispanic white girls.
  • Obesity rates among American-Indian boys peaked in 2007 and stayed high.
  • Hispanic boys’ obesity rates declined marginally after peaking in 2005, but no decrease was registered for the severe obesity rate.

The authors suggest several policy measures that might mitigate childhood obesity, including curbing promotion and sale of unhealthy products in schools, imposing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and raising the frequency of physical education.

Tags: California, children, obesity, Hispanic, Latino, race, African-American, Native American, youth

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