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Childhood Obesity, Socioeconomic Status Linked, ACHI Research Shows

August 20, 2021

Author

Kanna Lewis, PhD
Assistant Director of Health Policy Research
501-526-2244
KLewis@uams.edu

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Childhood obesity and socioeconomic status are closely linked in Arkansas, research by ACHI suggests.

Arkansas’s childhood obesity rate continues to be one of the highest in the nation, according to the most recent report by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). Since the 2003-04 school year, ACHI has been analyzing and reporting on public school students’ body mass index (BMI) measurements and weight status to study trends. Recently, our focus has shifted to identifying individual and neighborhood-level characteristics associated with childhood obesity. We also study how weight status in young children changes as children get older. The goal of this research is to help guide the development of public policies to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.

This year, we examined BMI growth patterns of public school students using latent growth mixture modeling (LGMM), an analytic technique that allows researchers to investigate questions about distinct patterns of growth and determine the extent to which identified patterns are impacted by individual and neighborhood characteristics. In our findings, contained in a report available on our website, we identify eight distinct BMI growth patterns in children beginning in kindergarten and continuing through eighth grade. Two particularly concerning growth patterns and associated risk factors are described below.

Among children in one of the growth patterns, a majority entered kindergarten already experiencing obesity and continue to increase in BMI at a higher rate than their peers through eighth grade. Compared to a contrasting group of children with healthy weight throughout kindergarten to eighth grade, these children were more likely to be female, receive free or reduced-price school lunches, live in a region of the state other than the Northwest, and live in neighborhoods with higher levels of poverty, lower average incomes, higher percentages of adults without a high school diploma, higher percentages of minority families, and lower vehicle ownership.

Children in another growth pattern of interest enter kindergarten with, on average, healthy weight status, but quickly increase in BMI through the eighth grade, where a majority ultimately experience obesity. Compared to a contrasting group of children with healthy weight throughout kindergarten to eighth grade, these children were more likely to be female, receive free or reduced-price school lunches, live in a region of the state other than the Northwest, and live in neighborhoods where higher percentages of adults lack a high school diploma.

These findings suggest that socioeconomic status plays a large role in determining whether children maintain weight status through the early school years or continue to increase in weight status over this period. We will highlight other factors associated with childhood obesity development in subsequent blog posts.