Minorities and Childhood Obesity Again

Sedentary lifestyle -- couch potato

Children need vitamin D for their bones. The lack of it can make them get rickets, a condition not seen much in the United States, although it is said to be increasing. Vitamin D is also necessary for protection against other problems like decaying teeth and respiratory infections. For some reason, kids who are overweight or obese experience more vitamin D deficiency.

A study of 12,000 kids between 6 and 18 years of age showed that the more overweight a child or teenager is, the more severe their vitamin D deficiency. There is also an ethnic angle, writes Renee Anderson:

Vitamin D deficiency was also found varying between different races like white (27 percent), Latino (52 percent) and black (87 percent) in obese children. Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in overweight and obese children. The particularly high prevalence in severely obese and minority children suggests that targeted screening and treatment guidance is needed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics even goes as far as to call vitamin D supplementation “essential” for children. They used to think 200 IU per day was sufficient, but now the recommended level has been raised to 400 IU per day. Oily fish, cheese, and egg yolks contain the nutrient, but the body seems very happy to manufacture it from sunshine. This points to another reason why ethnicity matters, because kids living in poverty often don’t have good play spaces or opportunities.

Kelly Fitzgerald wrote about a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project that used information from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance Survey. They looked at several years worth of data on 26 million children from 30 states, and found that:

The number of kids who were obese decreased from 15.2 percent in 2003 to 14.9 percent in 2010.

That doesn’t seem like much of a reduction, 3/10th of a percent over seven years. But Fitzgerald says it’s meaningful because it is “the first study of its kind to declare a decline in obesity among young kids from low-income families.”

Gilda Claudine Karasik writes:

Latino children are among the fastest-growing, youngest minority population and roughly 40% of Latino kids are overweight or obese. Mexican-American boys, for instance, have higher rates of childhood obesity than their non-Latino male counterparts and statistics show that young Latinas and African American girls are the least likely of all to engage in physical activity.

She mentions the checklist of reasons — transportation problems, crime in the neighborhoods, schools with inadequate recreational resources, poor urban planning, the shortage of parks, the marketing of junk food, and so on, and also makes a very telling point:

Latino and African American youth are engaged in media an average of nine hours a day…

Now, that is a real red flag. As Rose Eveleth in Scientific American reminds us, a study showed that unnecessary consumption of snacks amounts to about 167 calories per each hour of screen time. As the saying goes, “You do the math.” Okay, we will. Nine hours, multiplied by 167 calories, is 1,503 calories. Yikes!

Eveleth also says:

Television watching, for example, turns out to be a better predictor of bad eating habits than does parental weight, race and income, and a child’s gender and ethnicity — together — according to a study by Harrison and her team. This is probably prompted by child-targeted food marketing, combined with a sedentary lifestyle and snacking while watching.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Vitamin D Deficiency Common in Obese Kids,” Parent Herald, 12/25/12
Source: “Obesity Rates Decline Among Young Kids,” Medical News Today, 12/27/12
Source: “Politics of Childhood Obesity 101,” Politics365, 12/19/12
Source: “Hidden Drivers of Childhood Obesity Operate Behind the Scenes,” Scientific American, 10/31/11
Image by FBellon.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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