Social class influences the risk of obesity

In the official journal of the American Medical Association devoted to health in the field of pediatrics, JAMA Pediatrics, a team of researchers publishes new results on the impact of social class on the risk of developing obesity. This risk has been increasing for two decades. The work analyzed the population of young people living in the United States.

The authors studied trends in obesity among young people in the country and contrasted their relationship with their socio-economic level between 1999 and 2018. In their study, they started from the observation that “obesity among adolescents in the North Americans is a public health problem, since this condition is a cardiovascular risk factor. The relationship between obesity and low socioeconomic status (denoted by the acronym SES) was observed in an analysis published in 2021 on cases of this disease in the adult population. However, the phenomenon had not been thoroughly studied among young people since the publication of a work that had been published in 2008the research team therefore undertook to update the data.

They assessed the presence of obesity over two decades, then assigned each case to a socioeconomic group based on the household head’s annual income and education level. They obtained data from national health surveys – known by the acronym NHANES – and asked for informed consent from people over the age of 18 or guardians of participants who were under that age.

Percentile greater than 95

Obesity in adolescents aged 10 to 19 years was defined for this study as a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile according to growth charts designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to family income and household head education, data on race and ethnicity were included for their possible impact on obesity risk.

Of the 21,296 young people included in the study, those who lived in low-income households were more likely to develop obesity. Their percentage risk ranged from 21% to 22%, 9% higher than the other groups based on education and 4% higher based on income. This trend, with a risk higher than that of the general population, has been accentuated since the first data (those of 1999) until those of two decades later.

In view of the results, the authors suggest that the socio-economic differences between certain groups of adolescents and others also determine the inequality in terms of the risk of developing obesity, which is greater for young people from less advantaged, in a more precarious economic situation or who live with guardians with a lower level of education. The data, verified between the years 1999 and 2018, also shows that the risk increases with this time difference, “indicating that socio-economic disparities in obesity have increased over the two decades”, as they write it in the conclusions of their work.

Consequences in adulthood

In addition, they point out that suffering from obesity at this stage of life, adolescence, has direct consequences on health in adulthood, and that these consequences are felt in the long term. “As a result, the fact that adolescents live in more adverse socio-economic environments may in turn exacerbate differences in risk of suffering from chronic diseases in adulthood,” they warn.

As some of the limitations of their study, they point out that there may be factors that were not taken into account that may have skewed their conclusions, since some data was obtained based on what the participants themselves same said.

For this reason, they recommend that in the future, when the issue is analyzed in other research works, objective data be taken into account and, in addition, recommendations on effective strategies to reduce social differences in obesity, as well as an assessment of its long-term consequences.

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