Dr. Michael Forster

Disparities evident in latest childhood obesity research

Good news and bad news both emerge from recently released Center for Mississippi Health Policy research on childhood obesity.  It’s true, as local headlines have emphasized, that the percentage of Mississippi kids considered overweight or obese appears to be coming down.  In the nation’s unhealthiest state, here’s no way to construe that as anything but very welcome good news.

It’s also true, however, that most of the progress is concentrated among white kids.  The research – some of it conducted by College of Health professors Jerome Kolbo (Social Work), Elaine Molaison (Nutrition), and Bonnie Harbaugh (Nursing) – shows, notably, that while overweight/obesity dropped 7.6% in white girls from 2005 to 2011, it actually increased 1.7% in black girls over the same time period.

What gives?  Probably multiple factors are in play.  A number of research studies point to racial disparities in levels of activity, diets, and what parents perceive as “normal” weight in their children.  Not surprisingly, moreover, such negative indicators strongly correlate with poverty.  

In a state as poor as Mississippi, that’s very bad news, and speaks strongly in favor of much more aggressive health education outreach efforts targeted to low-income kids and families – in schools, yes, as intended by the 2007 Mississippi Healthy Students Act, but in a range of other community venues as well.

Dr. Michael Forster
Dr. Michael Forster

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