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Food prices affect childhood obesity rates

A new study evaluated food prices and their relationship to childhood obesity
A new study evaluated food prices and their relationship to childhood obesity
Robin Wulffson, M.D.

Because of the soaring rates of childhood—and adult—obesity in the US, extensive research is focused on its reduction. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity is both a national and local crisis. Nationally, obesity rates among children have tripled since the 1970s; in Los Angeles County more than one in five students in the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades are now obese. A new study evaluated food prices and their relationship to childhood obesity. Researchers at American University, Washington, DC published their findings online on February 10 in the journal Pediatrics.

The study authors note that both obesity and food insecurity are major public health issues facing young US children. They explain that a lack of affordable, healthy foods is one of the neighborhood factors presumed to promote both food insecurity and obesity among children. Therefore, the researchers conducted a study to assess associations between local food prices and children’s body mass index (BMI), weight, and food security outcomes.

The investigators assessed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, which is a nationally representative study of children from infancy to age five. They linked that information with local food price data from the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) Cost-of-Living Index (11,700 observations were made). The researchers focused on a subsample of households under 300% of the Federal Poverty Level. The data was subjected to analyses that explored the variability in food price data over time and among children who move residences.

The researchers found that their analyses reveled that higher-priced fruits and vegetables are associated with higher child BMI, and this relationship is fueled by the prices of fresh (versus frozen or canned) fruits and vegetables. In addition, they found that higher-priced soft drinks are associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight. A surprise finding was that higher fast food prices were liked to a greater likelihood of being overweight.

The authors concluded that policies, which reduce the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables, may be effective in promoting healthy weight consequences among young children.

Take home message:
Regardless of household income level, many children consume a disproportionate amount of junk foods and soft drinks and lack adequate fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. Eliminating all junk food and sugary beverages and supplying your children with generous portions of fresh fruits and vegetables is a good thing!