Obesity is one of the defining health challenges of our generation. Studies project that, if current trends continue, more than 50% of the US population will have obesity within the next 20 years.
Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Early Childhood Obesity
Inyang A. Isong, MD, MPH, ScD, Sowmya R. Rao, PhD, Marie-Abèle Bind, PhD, Mauricio Avendaño, PhD, Ichiro Kawachi, MD, PhD, Tracy K. Richmond, MD, MPH, 2018. "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Early Childhood Obesity", Obesity: Stigma, Trends, and Interventions, American Academy of Pediatrics
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The prevalence of childhood obesity is significantly higher among racial and/or ethnic minority children in the United States. It is unclear to what extent well-established obesity risk factors in infancy and preschool explain these disparities. Our objective was to decompose racial and/or ethnic disparities in children’s weight status according to contributing socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors.
We used nationally representative data from ~10 700 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort who were followed from age 9 months through kindergarten entry. We assessed the contribution of socioeconomic factors and maternal, infancy, and early childhood obesity risk factors to racial and/or ethnic disparities in children’s BMI z scores by using Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition analyses.
The prevalence of risk factors varied significantly by race and/or ethnicity. African American children had the highest prevalence of risk factors, whereas Asian children had the lowest prevalence. The major contributor to the BMI z score gap was the rate of infant weight gain during the first 9 months of life, which was a strong predictor of BMI z score at kindergarten entry. The rate of infant weight gain accounted for between 14.9% and 70.5% of explained disparities between white children and their racial and/or ethnic minority peers. Gaps in socioeconomic status were another important contributor that explained disparities, especially those between white and Hispanic children. Early childhood risk factors, such as fruit and vegetable consumption and television viewing, played less important roles in explaining racial and/or ethnic differences in children’s BMI z scores.
Differences in rapid infant weight gain contribute substantially to racial and/or ethnic disparities in obesity during early childhood. Interventions implemented early in life to target this risk factor could help curb widening racial and/or ethnic disparities in early childhood obesity.