Poor children risk obesity

November 17, 2005, vol. 34, no. 6
By Diane Luckow

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Canadian children living in low socio-economic neighbourhoods are more likely to be overweight or obese than children in higher income neighbourhoods, according to new research by SFU geography doctoral student Lisa Oliver.

Oliver, who is in the third year of her PhD program, recently published her research, which is for her thesis, in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

The study, one of the first to relate neighbourhoods to children's weight, focused on 12,000 children living in neighbourhoods across Canada. Using census data and an ongoing Statistics Canada survey that includes children's heights and weights, she determined the relationship between the body mass index of five- to 17-year-old children and the neighbourhoods in which they live.

She was surprised to discover the magnitude of difference between the socio-economic ranges: approximately 35 per cent of children in low socio-economic neighbourhoods were overweight compared to 24 per cent in high socio-economic neighbourhoods.

The study also looked at environmental factors influencing the children's daily lives, including opportunities for physical activity. Oliver found that fewer children in low socio-economic neighbourhoods participate in organized physical activities and that their parents were three times more likely to say that their neighbourhood parks were unsafe.

Oliver, who hopes to become a professor, plans more research into neighbourhood influences on obesity to try to see how environmental factors are influencing this epidemic.

“It's important to focus attention on children,” says Oliver. “Once they become overweight in childhood it's very difficult to lose that weight in adulthood.”•

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