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J Epidemiol Community Health 68:478-484 doi:10.1136/jech-2013-203062
  • Body weight and obesity

Accumulation of childhood poverty on young adult overweight or obese status: race/ethnicity and gender disparities

  1. Emily Pressler2
  1. 1Department of Health and Human Performance, Texas Obesity Research Center, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA
  2. 2Department of Human Development Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Daphne C Hernandez, Department of Health and Human Performance, University of Houston, 3855 Holman Street, 104 Garrison, Houston, Texas 77204-6015, USA; dhernandez26{at}uh.edu
  • Received 3 July 2013
  • Revised 3 November 2013
  • Accepted 9 December 2013
  • Published Online First 3 January 2014

Abstract

Background Childhood poverty is positively correlated with overweight status during childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Repeated exposure of childhood poverty could contribute to race/ethnicity and gender disparities in young adult overweight/obese (OV/OB) weight status.

Methods Young adults born between 1980 and 1990 who participated in the Young Adult file of the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth were examined (N=3901). The accumulation of childhood poverty is captured via poverty exposure from each survey year from the prenatal year through age 18 years. Body mass index was calculated and categorised into the reference criteria for adults outlined by the Center for Disease Control. Logistic regression models were stratified by race/ethnicity and included a term interacting poverty and gender, along with a number of covariates, including various longitudinal socioeconomic status measures and indicators for the intergenerational transmission of economic disadvantage and body weight.

Results Reoccurring exposure to childhood poverty was positively related to OV/OB for white, black and Hispanic young adult women and inversely related for white young adult men. A direct relationship between the accumulation of childhood poverty and OV/OB was not found for black and Hispanic young adult men.

Conclusions Helping families move out of poverty may improve the long-term health status of white, black and Hispanic female children as young adults. Community area interventions designed to change impoverished community environments and assist low-income families reduce family level correlates of poverty may help to reduce the weight disparities observed in young adulthood.